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Livelihood In Pieces!

Memories of the plight of migrant workers, after the first wave of COVID-19 Pandemic rocked India in 2020, are etched in the minds of nearly 1,400,000,000 people of this country, especially to a bulk of the 40 million odd migrant workers. The daily-wage earners had to face the heat the most, as their sources of earning got depleted. India is facing a similar scenario, yet again, as the second wave of Pandemic has paralysed the National Economy, as well as the Health Infrastructure, in 2021.

In such a situation, Belgian-born Indian Economist, Social Scientist and Activist Jean Drèze has warned that the South Asian Nation is all set to experience a serious livelihood crisis. In fact, the crisis is even more severe for the working class this time, he said. It is because the reserves of the people are depleted, and many are in heavy debt. Furthermore, there was a relief package last year, and there is not much of a discussion about relief measures nowadays. Drèze, who has worked on several developmental issues facing India, like hunger, famine and gender inequality, advised the Government of India to arrange long-term relief in order to tackle the crisis in a proper manner. He also warned that a rigid mentality in this regard would only increase the danger.

Jean Drèze

It may be noted that Indian Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman and some of her Cabinet colleagues have repeatedly said in recent times that the second wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic would hit the economy a bit, but not as hard as the first one. The Government of India had virtually closed the doors of the economy in 2020 in order to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. So far in 2021, efforts have been made to keep the financial activities active at least somewhat through local lockdowns and restrictions in some areas. However, Drèze has reasons to believe that the problem is much serious this time.

Talking to the media a couple of days ago, the Economist said that the way the infection is spreading this time, the fear has become more prominent in the minds of the people. Although the Government did not impose a complete lockdown, even partial lockdowns would have an adverse impact on the economy, stressed Drèze. He stated: “The impact of local level lockdowns on the economy may not be the same as complete lockdown. However, the situation is much worse for the working class this time. Despite mass vaccination drive, India is likely to face problems for the long-term.” He added: “Compared to 2020, the savings of many have decreased in recent times. The burden of debt has increased, too. This time, people cannot borrow money from their friends. As a whole, India is going to face a serious livelihood crisis.

Crime against Humanity?

Drèze recalled that the Narendra Modi Government had announced a relief package in 2020 to turn the economy around. This time, the Government has made no such announcement. Advising the Government to announce a new relief package, the Economist said: “The Modi Administration has to do something extra. The duration of the social security scheme should be extended.” According to Drèze, the Government of India has made the situation worse by denying the problems. It is unfortunate that India has neglected its Health System, especially the Public Health Sector, for many decades, insisted the Belgium-born Economist.

If it is thought of in a rational manner, the common feature of food crises in rural India resulting out of drought may be recalled from five-odd decades: 1966-67, 1972-73, and even 2001-02, where extensive relief measures had been taken to avoid instances of humanitarian disaster. It is quite possible that such a situation has already arrived in India.

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