This question is crossing over the minds of many Indians. Corona has taken the world by surprise and it is one in million moment where the modern world is facing an existential threat. Corona is a name given to virus which can cause acute respiratory infection and even cause death to those who are having low immunity. India has shown high resolve to fight the spread of this virus by following ‘janta curfew’. The centre and state governments have also take firm steps like statutory lock down of certain districts and suspension of transportation services like railways and road transport.
While India unites to fight against Corona, India is likely to face a testing choice in near future whether to prevent the deaths due to corona or deaths due to poverty. The origins of corona in India and its impact are highly socially inequitable and cause serious consequences for a particular socio-economic strata .The poor have almost no role in bringing the corona into country but they are discovering that they will be the major casualty in India’s plan to mitigate the impact of Corona. Corona is an imported virus and has been brought to India by those in higher income and middle income group who will be able to pass off the ‘lock down’ period without much discomfort. The lack of restraint on the behalf of foreign-returns is squarely responsible for the spread of corona in the country. However, the lock down which is an attempt to mitigate the impact of certain socially irresponsible citizens is going to push the poor into deep despair.
India , therefore, cannot duck Corona by simply going into lock down zone.The state and centre governments need to devise an intelligent strategy to ring fence economic output of certain essential sectors like agriculture and secondary sector from the impacts of Corona.The services sector which is highly human intensive can wait for sometime but not the agriculture sector or secondary sector which not only sustains large chunk of poor but are important for survival of poor.Once this sector is ring fenced, the government may then resort to helicopter drop of money a.k.a. direct cash transfer of money. Direct cash transfer of money to poor will help them to pass the suffering from zero income days. However, the ring fencing is a big must else helicopter drop of money will be highly inflationary.
Corona is likely to have a great impact not only on demand side but also on supply side which should cause a deep worry to India.The essential commodities act may give only temporary relief till enough inventory is there in the market. Once existing inventory subsides, the things may become very challenging. India should not totally rely on archaic laws to protect its poor from Corona. It needs a holistic strategy to ensure that the country is able to pass the corona phase with as low inflation as possible. Deficit financing alone won’t help and it needs to be carefully exercised with enough capacity in the market to absorb the extra pumping of money.
India can duck the impact of corona only if it accompanies ‘social distancing’ with the ‘ring fencing’ of essential industries from impact of corona. Food processing and general consumption Industries can help India stave off the deaths which may result not because of corona but because of poverty. Therefore, a strong health vigil must be maintained in this industry without locking it down. This is one trade-off India will have to make by prioritizing its healthcare focus on people running these Industries while those in services Industries should strictly comply with lock down rather than putting pressure on limited healthcare facilities.
It is a positive step that India is taking corona very seriously but it is equally important that it takes poverty very seriously else the calamity due to poverty may start providing a competition to threat due to corona. Also, it is a gentle reminder to state to not take healthcare lightly. The constant under-investment in healthcare is evident as India is grappling with limited testing facilities as well as curative facilities. A robust healthcare gives much more space to deal with corona. However, in present scenario, the only option with India is to immediately devise a short term economic strategy to deal with corona and post-corona, rethink its healthcare strategy to deal with such situations more effectively.