Disruptions in Parliament are so sadly routine that they have ceased to be of shocking significance. The start of the monsoon session was no exception. Watching the Rajya Sabha debates from behind the scenes, it was infuriating to see some MPs mistaking the temple of democracy for a fish market.
There was an exception last Tuesday when all sections of the Rajya Sabha agreed to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic. It was miraculously encouraging. He suggested that there is at least nominal acceptance of seeing the pandemic as the top national priority.
No matter what partisan side strikes against the Center or state governments for errors, miscalculations or worse, it is also recognized that the pandemic is not going to go away in a hurry. After experiencing the devastation of the Second Wave that the less vigilant did not fully anticipate, there is now a quiet determination that the third wave centered on the Delta strain will be satisfied with enhanced capacities at all levels. In line with the global consensus, policymakers seem to agree that the most effective way to resist an ever-changing virus is mass vaccination. This implies that the production and supply of approved vaccines and their harmonious and equitable distribution must be managed efficiently and on a war footing.
As of July 22, the number of people in India who have received at least one dose is 41.78 crore. In absolute terms, this is one of the highest in the world, but considering India’s population of 138 crore, there is still some way to go before the next wave can be met by a wall of vaccines. As it stands, rural India remains vulnerable and uncertainty remains as to how the next waves of Covid-19 will hit children and adolescents. At the same time, there is growing confidence that domestic vaccine production will narrow the gap between supply and demand. There is reason to believe that the pressure on the public health system – especially the shortage of oxygen cylinder supplies – that occurred in the early stages of Wave 2 will not be repeated. The lessons of past shortcomings seem to have been learned quietly.
The pandemic is not entirely a medical problem. The overwhelming need to minimize human contact and prevent the spread of Covid-19 has had far-reaching economic consequences and, in many cases, devastated the livelihoods of peoples and communities. The decline in GDP is a statistical aggregation that does not fully reflect the greater human costs of disruptions to normal life.
To prevent distress from turning into deprivation, the Narendra Modi government’s ambitious free basic ration program has reached nearly 80 million people, or about two-thirds of India’s population. In addition, cash grants to targeted sections such as farmers, construction workers, uprooted migrant workers, women, the elderly and people with disabilities have enabled some 42 million vulnerable Indians to benefit. a little respite. This elaborate wellness initiative costing some Rs 1.7 lakh crore was only possible because the economy was relatively healthy when the pandemic hit. Economists may have differing opinions on the relative merits of cash and in-kind donations. However, no one disputes the importance of Modi’s Garib Kalyan program in preventing social upheaval in this time of disruption.
The past 16 months have witnessed an exponential expansion of the role of the state in public life. Pandemic demands have diluted previous commitments to a lean state. However, what has been experienced so far is only the beginning. In times of economic crisis, public investment has invariably been used to support growth. As India returns to normalcy, the pressure on the government to fund additional social protection programs and inject both investment and subsidies into sectors that have been ravaged by the pandemic will be intense. Until now, the Modi government has preferred investments in capacity building infrastructure to grants. But political constraints can force a partial reconfiguration of resources. In addition, if inflation is to be contained, the revenue gap will have to be partially covered by tax increases – unpopular measures at best.
Crisis management is based on a balance of risks. It is also a test of the nerves. So far, despite unfavorable global publicity, Modi has negotiated the rough waters with poise, open-mindedness, and without doctrinal inhibitions. The enormous public confidence in his leadership has contributed to his steadfastness.
India has so far emerged from the pandemic with cuts, bruises and sprains. But imagine if Covid-19 had arrived during the lifetime of a fragile government led by an uncertain leader.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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