Covid-19 Outbreak and Indian Government’s Responses


Covid-19 has now emerged as the worst danger to  human health and has emerged as the main cause for most  health problems, infections and mortality in India and across  the world.

The  Covid-19 pandemic has been described as a “Global Heath Emergency” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). At times,  it has been termed as a “Global Health Crisis”. China’s Wuhan city  has been identified as  the epicenter of this disease. The total  Corona Virus (positive) figures around the world suggests that the disease has had free run thus far,  transcending national  boundaries,  work  settings and occupational groups.

The severity of the disease can be gauged from  statistics published by media — both print and electronic. Over several million  people have been infected or killed by this disease globally..  The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in India in comparison to other parts of the world is very low and the  present scenario assumes that there will be a gradual rise in the number of people affected by it. In a space of few months, the  galloping spread of Covid has  baffled human intelligence, endeavour and calculations. Various studies  have established that many  Indians could be infected.

Going by updated statistics, there are over 7.6 million positive cases and, 111,500 deaths so far in India (Dainik Yugasankha, October 20, 2020). It has  also predicted that the number of Covid-19 positive cases in India would eventually be the highest in the world due to the size of the population. India  now globally ranks third  in terms of  confirmed cases and deaths.

The death rate is still on the lower side, but in a  multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-ethnic country like India, which has  many social disparities and inequalities, we can predict that this  pandemic can  acquire  alarming proportions. Maharashtra, for instance, has become the state with  the highest number of Covid  positive cases, roughly 1.6 million. This  is growing daily. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have  roughly 638K, 766K and 638K Covid positive cases respectively and these numbers are increasing.

West Bengal and Assam are also reported to have a large number of infected persons, approximately 210, 000, and that  number is swelling every day. It is apprehended that this disease may create a  health chaos in India.  The northeast Indian  states are comparatively less affected by the pandemic and l the death rate is very low.  Statistics reveal that the disease is taking a  heavy toll of lives in major states, most notably  in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Delhi. Cases of community infection have  also reported in most  states. A disturbing feature is that Kerala which had succeeded in controlling the disease is now  reporting fresh cases.

 

Causes for Rapid Spread:

Several factors  have been identified as causes for the rapid spread of the disease. First and foremost is the fact that  most victims  of the pandemic at the beginning of its spread  had an international travel history and thus became exposed to  symptoms of the virus. By coming into contact with other people/persons, they infected others, especially during the incubation period. This was the first phase of transmission.

Secondly, rural-urban migration was identified as one of the potential routes for  rapid transmission of the disease. Assam provides the best illustration. Before the arrival of migrant workers from badly-affected states, the infection was at the lower  end of the scale in Assam. With the arrival of  migrants, a larger  number of people got infected and the graph of infection rose  gradually each  day. This situation though was  not particular  to Assam as other  northern states faced similar situations.

A third factor was the  low level of awareness  about the nature of the disease and the mechanism that was required to  prevent its spread. The  nonchalant attitude of  laymen in displaying complete disregard to the advice of the authorities substantially accounted  for the surge of cases. The advice to stay home and spend  quality time  was completely ignored. Very few citizens practiced the habit of wearing face masks or  washing their hands, or  maintaining social distance, or  self quarantine.

Another significant factor was  the lack or absence of an appropriate antidote or vaccine against the killer disease. A combination of these  factors has worsened the situation, making  it most critical and  turning  the disease into one of the  major public health challenges of the 21st century.

Medical Intervention:

The disease has caused a range of serious health problems, some of which have  become unmanageable by  medicalpractitionersand health workers, and has caused mortality. So, no single type of treatment or prevention should be viewed as a panacea for this ailment. To tackle this health menace, a wide spectrum of medical intervention strategy, administrative measures and prevention programmes should be developed to suit the needs of different patients and risk groups.

In view of the worsening situation, the Government of India acted well in time, adopting  several medical and administrative measures to  confront and counter  the spread of the disease aggressively at both the national and state level. First of all, many government and private hospitals were  converted or designated as  Covid-19 hospitals for treating  Corona Virus patients. Several  makeshift  hospitals and government quarantine centres were built to  shelter  asymptomatic and mildly infected persons. Ample  provision was made for sanitising  hospitals and affected areas. Sufficient supply of appropriate drugs for systematic treatment and other medical equipments for testing was guaranteed.  Safety measures for  frontline fighters such as doctors, nurses, health  workers and scavengers were taken. All this  entailed a huge outlay which the central  government rolled out in a timely manner and continues to do so.

Media reports and current data suggest that the Corona Virus disease has still  a mortality rate of  less than two percent. But the combined burden of some  common diseases like  heart disease, cancer, diabetes,  respiratory ailments etc., has the potential of increasing  the intensity of the disease and enhancing the  mortality rate.

Another most encouraging feature in this depressing  scenario is  the rate of recovery which is currently about 84 percent and rising.

The  worrisome factor is that  frontline fighters like doctors, nurses and other health workers are reported to have developed various psychological problems due to  stress and exhaustion. The  proximity to Corona Virus patients tends to affect their mental health and produces  serious forms of mental disorder. To tackle this problem, the  government has issued  precise guidelines; including  appointment of social counselors.

The containment of the Corona Virus pandemic is the  government’s top most priority.  Conducting medical research, manufacturing medical and laboratory equipment for testing, developing vaccines, specific corona virus related drugs and antibiotics are in  progress.

India today has become  a country with a huge pharmaceutical empire. Confidential testing facilities are being developed and expanded. It is reported that India stands second in terms of testing, tracing and systematic treatment, next to America, while other European and non-European countries are saddled by various disease-linked problems (The Statesman, 17, July 2020).

Administrative Measures:

Different administrative measures are being adopted for containing the disease. A huge force  of law enforcing personnel have been  deployed to maintain law and order and to keep a check on violations of a strict nation-wide lockdown. The compulsory detention of those with a  travel history is a  big step forward in containing the rapid spread of the disease, Such forms of mandatory detention are a  kind of government support for both  families  and society. Those quarantined  do get free food and accommodation during  the incubation period. Due to the timely medical and administrative intervention, the rate of recovery has become the highest in terms of global recovery rate.

Another important measure by the  government is the imposition of a strict  lockdown. On  March 25, a  lockdown was announced by  Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, and was  extended  from time to time. It is estimated that India lost  over Rs 32,000 crores every day during the first  21 days of the  lockdown. Over the months, much work has been  undertaken to assess and  estimate  the economic burden arising out of the  lockdown. It has been  realized that the disease has resulted in  a substantial economic burden, which has the potential for increasing. Such adverse economic loss has  not been confined to India alone. It is a global phenomenon. The complete lockdown has  affected industrial and agricultural productivity and left a  number of people jobless.

A panoply of economic and monetary measures, adopted by the  government to  mitigate  the sufferings of people  is praiseworthy. On  March 26, the Central Government showed its highly responsive attitude by announcing various economic and relief measures  amounting to Rs 170,000 crores. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has endeavoured to ensure a smooth and normal functioning of all market segments with adequate liquidity and turnover. The f RBI Governor has further assured that “the regulator has enough policy tools and stands ready to take any measures” needed to help the economy tide over the  pandemic (The Statesman, dated  08.03.2020, p.8). On  March 26, the RBI infused Rs 374,000 crores in the financial system. Furthermore, the RBI provided another  Rs 50,000 crores to NABARD, SIDBI and NHB. On  May 12, the Modi Government further  announced an economic package of  Rs 20 lakh crores, calculating it to be 10 percent  of India’s GDP with the objective of transforming India into a “Self-Reliant Bharat (India)”.

 

The  government’s financial support is not limited to this. It showed its  human face further by announcing  better benefits, both in  cash and kind, for the poor and the general population of the country. It  provided a free food grain package to f each family ( five kilograms  per head), irrespective of class, creed, social or  financial status.

Another important cash benefit was the direct transfer of  Rs 500 to  Jan  Dhan Accounts for three months and grant of full price of three  cooking gas cylinders under the “Ujjala Scheme”  to beneficiaries. Such a specific funding stream is, of course, a relatively straight forward way of addressing the issue of poverty, hunger and  declining purchase  power of the country’s masses.

Such positive economic measures and relief packages can  rescue  people  suffering from a combination of  problems like  unemployment, poverty, low income, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown.

Additionally, the  government has introduced a range of tax and benefit changes.

Many Rating Agencies had predicted a bleak scenario for the  Indian economy due to the Corona Virus pandemic.  Fitch Rating cut Indian’s growth to 5.1 percent for F.Y. 2020. In its Global Economic Outlook, 2020, Fitch observed that “Supply Chain disruptions  are expected to hit both  investment and exports. We see GDP growth to remain broadly steady at 5.1 percent in the fiscal year 2020-21” (The Statesman, 21.03.2020, p. 8). Fitch has also projected India’s growth to be 6.4 percent for 2021-22.

Another rating agency, Moody, has predicted India’s credit rating to the lowest investment grade level. It was expected that that a developing country  like India would suffer  a  heavy economic toll due to the disease, but t due to the introduction of several  positive  measures and relief packages, the Indian economy is beginning to grow upward since  July and  showing signs of recovery. Such a revival in a  limited span of time is indicative of India’s  inherent resilience.

Agriculture:

In the last couple of months,  distressed farmers have been  demonstrating against the government, raising important issues and placing  several demands to improve the agrarian economy.

In the past, agriculture was a highly rewarding occupation and acted as the core of  the Indian economy, but in recent times, it has lost  its importance and is failing to contribute  to the country’s GDP.  Climate  anomalies have created uncertain and non-renumerative situations for the  agriculture sector. Frequent flooding, extensive periods of drought, depleting ground water levels, rising costs of production, volatile pricing  due to an imbalance between demand and  supply and the entry of  private money lenders, intermediaries and speculators  are some of the factors responsible  for the decline in the  Indian agriculture sector.

An  ailing agriculture sector isn’t good for  for the food security of a  country. It also affects  rural development, prevents eradication of poverty, hunger and starvation. Farmer  suicides are a  recurring  tragedy. Several  rural youth have migrated to prosperous urban areas or to  agriculturally rich regions  like Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh in search of jobs  and higher incomes.

Over the  past few decades,  successive  governments have adopted policies and energy intensive technologies that  have  increased the cost of production even as  researchers have  focused  on how to increase  yields. In this process, agriculture has become a costly affair. The  use of costly fertilizers, pesticides and commercial seeds has compounded the problem. When a crop fails, there is a huge debt burden to be overcome. Small  and marginal farmers do not have sufficient resource bases to  absorb such losses.

On  June 3, 2020,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced some  policies to  reform  the  agriculture sector.  Areas  meriting urgent  attention were  streamlined and affirmative initiatives were launched  to achieve  agrarian  objectives.

First of all, there was the  ‘Essential Commodities Act’ (Enacted in 1955 & amended in 2020 ). The aim of the act is to  reduce and eventually remove restrictions in the  agricultural products business.

The introduction of the  “Agricultural Bill 2020”  empowers  farmers with regard to  the business of agro-products and the preservation of perishable commodities. The  government also made  some policy changes  to help the farming community.

It has removed  restrictions on storage, sale and movement of foodgrains and other farm products across  state boundaries.

The Essential Commodities Act was adversely affecting  private investment in cold storage, food processing and warehouses, but with its  amendment, the  Act now encourages  private investors to invest  in  these sectors.

Public and private investment is crucial for  developing  Indian agriculture. Laws banning storage of large quantities of  agro-commodities, including wheat, onions etc., have  been removed. Agricultural markets in India are highly fractured and are not small and marginal farmers’ friendly. Improved market access is essential. This  facilitates  organised  retailers and processors to purchase  products directly from  farmers groups.

Such improved market access can  certainly generate higher income for the farmer. Apart from all these policy changes,  wide-ranging monetary benefits have been  introduced such as such the “Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana” (PMKSY), “Prime Minister Krishan Prakalpa‘, pension schemes for  farmers, ‘Prime Minister Samman Siddha’ Yojana (PMKSS) etc. Such direct monetary benefits would definitely minimize farmer  distress, especially those who are  marginal and small.

The policy message is clear — total well-being of the Indian farming community. A wide safety net and social assistance to  farmers in times of distress is  a sustainable way of dealing with  challenges of recession, hunger, poverty, rural underdevelopment, chaotic health conditions, stopping violent movements and farmer suicides in the  country.

References:

Leave a Reply