The Covid-19 pandemic has played havoc with life in India. As it is, the economic performance in the pre-Covid-19 period was far from what it should have been in the BJP government’s pursuit of becoming a 5 trillion dollar economy. The GDP growth steadily declined from 8.3 per cent in 2016-17 to 4.2 per cent in 2019-20 and the decline in this period can only be attributed to some inadequate or mismanaged macro-economic policy deployment. The virus, thereafter, contracted the slow growth economy to a level at which it would take quite some time to recover.
The steady decline in growth, in hindsight, looks like the handiwork of a clairvoyant turned policy maker who prepared us psychologically with a reduction in growth rate for the ultimate calamity (that was described by the FM as the ‘Act of God’) to strike and result in the contraction of the economy by 23.9 per cent in the first quarter of the financial year. Purely from a ‘man on the street’ perspective, it seems that the government neither has the capabilities nor the willingness to outsource talent to handle the required growth agenda. In a country where human distress is palpable, there has to be a very strong correlation between growth and employment. Unfortunately, we seem to have created an environment in which jobless and hungry people are made to feel good and content about the progress that the country is, supposedly, making. As per CMIE, close to 1.9 crore people had lost their jobs by July 2020 and at a conservative number of 4 dependents per employed person, the number of people who are subjected to some deprivation resulting in possible frustration and depression is a staggering 7.6 crore – this, incidentally, is more than three times the population of Sri Lanka.
Various agencies have come up with their numbers in respect of the contraction in the economy that our country would experience in the current financial year and the variation in numbers clearly establishes that even the best of the agencies are struggling in the grey zone to figure out the impact that the pandemic would have on the economy. If epidemiologists are unable to precisely forecast the speed and the extent of the spread of the disease and the vaccine manufacturers are unable to give a firm timeline for the commercial release of the vaccine, it is rather unreasonable to expect economists to come up with forecast numbers that can be relied upon. After all their forecasts are based on assumptions or some ‘do it yourself’ estimates of the timeline for life getting back to normal.
A detailed report released by CRISIL has pegged the contraction in 2020-21 at minus 9 percent. The way the disease is spreading and the impact it has on the economy and employment, it is time for the policy makers to think a little out of the box to work out a strategy for a reduced level of contraction. It is difficult to forecast the future and fathom the impact that the disease would have on the nature and speed of the recovery of the economy but then there is enough intellectual capital and expertise in the country to put together models which would be able to simulate various recovery paths based on the extent of the spread of the disease and the possible policy deployment alternatives.
Automobile production is supposed to be one of the the most robust indicators of the health of the economy. While the production dropped by 14.7 per cent in 2019-20 as compared to the previous year, the apex industry association of the automobile sector, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), has projected a further reduction of as much as 43.8 per cent in the current FY as compared to 2019-20. The total production of automobiles in 2020-21 is estimated to be 14.8 million units and this would be a little less than a half of what it was in 2018-19 (30.9 million units). The fallout of this phenomenon would be huge across the large bandwidth of industries that support the automobile sectors. As things stand, all the sectors, other than the agricultural sector, are facing a crisis. Mercifully, the agriculture sector has been doing well and we have had a good monsoon this year and the largest employer in the economy (about 44 per cent) which just about contributes 15 percent to the GDP is expected to keep people fed and the economy rolling at the sustenance level through this period of crisis. For all those who work on policies that are expected to improve the income of the small and marginal farmers, the contribution of agriculture through these trying times should be kept in mind and archived for future reference. The contribution of agriculture through this phase is like the spontaneous and collective effort made by poor street dwellers to rescue a person from the car that he has banged against a wall.
Media bosses need to take off for some time to evaluate their purpose in life and society and think if they are doing what they ought to be doing. Wonder why did they send or allow journalists to cover Kangana on the Indigo flight which resulted in a frenzy and flouting of all the norms that are to be followed in flights. What newsworthy footage or sound byte were these journalists planning to or able to get that would make any difference to anyone in the country?. Why have our news channels degraded to a level at which they operate with the psychology of a paparazzi?
Exactly twenty five years back, the emergence of the private news channels in the country was celebrated with enormous hope and excitement. The initial phase was great with people getting a perspective on NEWS from across the world with the wonderful use of contemporary technology, at-site reporting and insightful discussions. Then came the period of political alignment of media and this phase was a period of addiction for people and most of the news watchers have been ‘digitally doped’. People have become used to these politically aligned news channels which make desperate attempts to reach out to the masses for ideological reinforcement or re-alignment and in this process use misinformation and aggressive posturing against selected weak opponents that are invited into debates – probably for a remuneration. Most of these channels have an ideological band to play for favours from the beneficiaries or increased TRP. Irrelevant issues are blown out of proportion and aired endlessly and issues of national importance and human challenge are brushed under the carpet.
Wish we had newscasters like Neethi Ravindran, Salma Agha, et al giving us the daily news updates. Or, since we have to live with the private channels, could we have these brash loudmouths who conduct meaningless noisy debates take some tutorial classes in news broadcasting, debating, and interviewing etiquette from the people who were seen on DD in those good old days.