View: How pandemic is forcing rejig of ‘minimum government’ concept

Interruptions in Parliament are such a bad habit that they have ceased to be of shocking value. The start of the monsoon is no exception. To watch Rajya Sabha proceedings from behind, it is exasperating to see some MPs mistake the temple of democracy for a fish market.

There was an exception last Tuesday when all parts of the Rajya Sabha agreed to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic. This is amazing. It suggests that there is at least a nominal acceptance of viewing Disease is a top national priority.

Never mind the partisan threats against center or state government For mistakes, miscalculations or worse, there is also a recognition that the pandemic will not go away in a hurry. After experiencing the devastation of the second wave that the less alert had not fully foreseen, it is now quietly decided that the third wave focusing on the Delta strain will be met by Advanced competencies at all levels. In line with the global consensus, policymakers seem to agree that the most effective way to combat a virus that continuously mutates is mass vaccination. This implies that the production and procurement of approved vaccines as well as their smooth and fair distribution need to be handled efficiently and on a war basis.

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 with India’s population of 138 crore there is still some way to go before the next wave can be met by an injection wall strains. As things continue to stabilize, rural India remains vulnerable and there is still uncertainty about how the next wave of Covid-19 will hit children and young people. At the same time, there is growing reassurance that domestic vaccine production will close the gap between supply and demand. There are reasons to believe that the strain on the public health system – especially the shortage of oxygen tanks – that occurred in the early stages of the second wave will not recur. Lessons from past shortcomings seem to have been quietly learned.

The pandemic is not strictly a medical problem. The imperative need to reduce human contact and prevent the spread of Covid-19 has had far-reaching economic consequences and, in many cases, devastated the livelihoods of people and communities. The decline in GDP is a statistical aggregate that does not fully reflect the larger human costs of disruptions to normal life.

To prevent poverty from turning into deprivation, the government’s ambitious program of free basic rations has reached nearly 80 people, approximately two-thirds of India’s population. In addition, cash subsidies for targeted groups such as farmers, construction workers, migrant workers, women, elderly and people with physical difficulties have helped about 42 Indians. Vulnerable get more breathing space. This complex welfare initiative, which costs around Rs 1,700,000, was only possible because the economy was relatively healthy during the pandemic. Economists may have different views on the relative value of cash and in-kind distributions. However, there is no question about the importance of Modi’s Garib Kalyan package in staving off social upheavals during this time of disruption.

The past 16 months have seen the state’s role in public life expand exponentially. Pandemic outbreaks have diluted previous commitments to the lean state. However, what has been experienced so far is only the beginning. In times of economic stress, public investment is always used to promote growth. As India returns to normal, the pressure on the government to fund additional welfare programs and inject both investment and subsidies into sectors already ravaged by the pandemic will be enormous. So far, the Modi government has prioritized investment in capacity building infrastructure at handover. But political coercion may force the partial removal of resources. Furthermore, if inflation is to be kept under control, the revenue deficit will have to be partially addressed by raising taxes—steps that are unpopular at the best of times.

Crisis management is all about balancing risks. It is also a test of the nerves. So far, despite some unfavorable public opinion globally, Modi has negotiated the volatile waters with composure, openness and without doctrinal constraints. The public’s immense confidence in his leadership contributed to his steadfastness.

So far, India has come out of the pandemic with cuts, bruises and sprains. But imagine if Covid-19 came during the existence of a fragile government headed by an uncertain leader. | View: How pandemic is forcing rejig of ‘minimum government’ concept


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