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.
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).
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.
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.
- Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/
- PMKSY, Govt. of India, https://pmksy.gov.in/
- The Statesman, https://www.thestatesman.com/ (17th July 2020)
- Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/(20 Sep 2020)
- Dainik Yugasankha, https://jugasankha.in/ (20th Oct 2020)
- Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/ (20th Oct 2020)