$2 trillion (Rs.151 lakh crore). That’s the sum that the much-maligned (and not without cause) President Donald Trump has budgeted to compensate ruined small businesses and citizens rendered unemployed in America following the national economic lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. This staggering figure is equivalent to two-thirds of India’s 2020-21 GDP and aggregates 10 percent of America’s GDP.
Against this, the total provision made by the BJP government at the Centre for compensating industry, agriculture and service sectors and hundreds of million jobless who have suffered during the drastic eight week countrywide lockdown on account of the pandemic, aggregates a mere Rs.3.2 lakh crore, equivalent to 1.4 percent of GDP. Appeals made by respected public intellectuals to raise the relief amount to at least 5 percent of GDP have been ignored. Ditto your editor’s detailed inflation-proof proposal to make immediate direct transfer of Rs. 4,444 per month for the next 12 months into the bank accounts of 150 million poorest households countrywide, which requires an outlay equivalent to 3.52 percent of GDP (Rs. 8 lakh crore).
The country’s supine citizens and the media in particular, need to question the Central government’s excessively cautious response to the Coronavirus pandemic. America which has suffered 77,000 fatalities, and Italy 30,200 have relaxed their lockdown restrictions to restart the engines of their economies.
It’s also noteworthy that Sweden didn’t lockdown at all, budgeting 4,000 deaths (double the number in annual influenza outbreaks).
In a nation where 90 percent of the population is employed in the informal low-income and daily wage economy, a prolonged eight-week nationwide lockdown defies all common sense. America has a population of 300 million and Italy 40 million, yet despite huge fatalities, these countries are back at work. India has a population of 1.3 billion and 2,000 Covid-19 fatalities.
Yet several state governments have extended the lockdown period. In a country where 9 million people die annually from environmental pollution, tuberculosis, chronic malnutrition and diahorrea, how justifiable is it immiserise over 1 billion citizens to save a few thousand?
There is a thin line between commendable official caution and cowardice. This line has been crossed.