When the world and opposition was warning about COVID-19 threat, our government was busy hosting a mass event where lakhs of people travelled to India and left giving us the fatal gift of Corona virus. Once the government got out of its languor and imposed a country-wide lockout, it did not bother about its impact on common man, migrant workers and daily wagers. Ironically on one hand all the MP’s and MLA’s got hike in their salaries amid these crises in spite holding all riches and hardly doing anything for the people at large. On the other hand, the commoners are fighting for one meal and survival but the government turned its back by being mute spectator. The Centre declared the lockdown and imposed other harsh measures without consulting any of the State governments. Just like announcing demonetization, without any clue and survival support, people were thrown out to battle various challenges. Many lost their lives then and many continue losing their lives even today. The anarchy and confusion were foreseeable. No one knows what this government is up to and what this Prime Minister is actually doing? Crores of funds raised to battle the crises, people with large heart rendered donations, crores of rupees were taken as loan from banks in the name of COVID crises and economy revival, but nothing has changed on the ground and no solutions have reached to grass root level. Common man is dying not only with coronavirus, but also lockdown induced sufferings.
Unfortunate migrant laborers had nowhere to go, nothing to eat and none to look to for any help. The lockdown reminds one of this government’s colossal failures such as demonetization and flawed GST implementation. With India already grappling with an economic slowdown and job losses, COVID-19 has struck at the most unfortunate time and the inept insensitive handling by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government has only worsened the situation. As always, the down-trodden sections of the society have had to bear the brunt of it and suffer worst time in their lives. Doctors, nurses, health workers and police personnel too have had to suffer a lot since the country was not prepared for this tragedy. After the lockdown, it will take months to get the workforce back, and streamline the machinery. There will also be a rush to complete pending projects. Migrants have completely lost faith; they became hopeless and shattered. Asking them to resume is another catastrophe because of the lack of basic humane treatment, they are so scared of present circumstances.
Likewise, in the extreme scenarios now painted, there seems to be no hope for many businesses like media houses, travel and hospitality segments. They will be unfortunately annihilated with job losses, bankruptcies and shutdowns. There are tens of thousands of people stranded across the globe, home or away, at their origins or midway. There will also be untold thousands who would now wish to visit their family after not having been able to be with them in times of deep uncertainty. People may be afraid of travel, but they may also want to move, as if freed from a prison. Post-lockdown, the sales of air tickets may zoom, as may their prices; the related spike in demand may shore up the hospitality sector too. The situation in agriculture is more intricate. The overall amount of work that needs to be done is, roughly speaking, constant within a short time-frame but this is a dynamic and mobile field of employment that faces unique bottlenecks now.
Farmers are sitting on a bumper rabi crop, although there are indications of a 15-20 per cent loss in wheat production due to untimely rain. But there is a shortage of labour, which moves from UP-Bihar to Punjab-Haryana, and also of mechanical harvesters which move from Punjab-Haryana to UP. The fact is that the wheat crop has to be harvested in the next week or two, or else there may be huge production losses. Although several state governments have announced measures to ensure free flow of farm labour, critics contend that the workers face problems at state borders. At this juncture, government may show any maturity, but people are wise enough to understand the intent. The farmers who are felt cheated are now not in a position to take the given opportunity of free flow as they have lost faith in the government policies and indifferent approach to the serious requirements and contribution of farming sector. As their work is dependent on the seasons and natures timings, it’s very critical certain farming activities are done at the right time to reap any fruitful result. Right now, they know that there is no point as even if they slog in farms, there would be more surprises and added challenges until the crop matures. Farming has become very complex issue as the lockdown has destroyed tons of fresh produce as it was left to rot due to lack of harvesting labour permissions. This has added to farmers running into huge losses and steep hike in food prices in markets. Food demand and supply thus as has big gap, and in coming time thus resulting starvation and inflation is inevitable. Employment is one facet of a complex farm scenario where the economic impact on individuals will be across levels. It’s a chain effect. Take one of the acute problems right now: farmer’s access to markets and vegetable mandi’s as their transportation too is hit. There are added costs as they will first take their crops to (the nearest) storage facilities and only later to the markets. Also, allied segments like dairy and poultry have also taken a severe hit and this will result to shrinking incomes. For farmers, warehouse receipts of their crops are not bankable or cashable. Until and unless they sell their crops, they cannot earn money to repay the loans taken earlier to buy seeds and fertilizers and further run their households. The crisis has stressed them badly because the lockdown has hit and damaged on all the modes of additional income. To finance the next crop, the farmers may have to take fresh loans, even if they have been unable to repay the earlier ones. This will result in a classic debt trap that can last several seasons. In the past we have seen this vicious cycle practically break the spirit of thousands of farmers and thousands have died committing suicide due to the stress due to the indifferent government approach and lack of crucial support system at the right time. Farmers are food providers of the nation and must be protected and nurtured in return. At present, the scenario for farmers seems only more grim.
According to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, over 490 IT employees in Bengaluru and West Bengal have lost their jobs so far, citing a market slowdown due to the global coronavirus the companies have laid off its employees and the startups are in the same boat. They just began, boomed and busted within no time. India’s startup ecosystem is also staring at monstrous losses. Many are instituting layoffs or pay cuts as fears intensify.
Many prominent media houses have sanctioned layoffs or mandatory leave without pay. While the Indian Express and Business Standard newspapers have announced pay cuts, others are also taking steps to curb costs. On April 10, 15 employees of News Nation, a Hindi news national channel were asked to leave with immediate effect. On April 13, digital news website ‘The Quint’ asked about 45 employees to go on indefinite leave without pay. The organisation faced “a truly unprecedented situation” in these circumstances, it is clear that our revenues will be under severe strain over the next 3-4 months. Times Life, the Sunday supplement of the Times of India has also asked its employees to leave on April 13.
On April 15, global airline’s grouping International Air Transport Association (IATA) noted that more than 20 lakh jobs are at risk in India’s aviation sector. Passenger revenue is expected to fall by more than $8.8 billion and passenger demand declined by 36%. Some domestic airlines, such as SpiceJet and GoAir have resorted to leave without pay and layoffs of expat pilots. Travel restrictions, including in India are paralyzing the hospitality sector too. The coronavirus scare has crippled the sector completely. In March, India’s merchandise exports shrunk by a record 34.6% while imports declined 28.7% as countries sealed their borders to combat the virus. Like the hospitality industry, the export sector, too is demanding the government to intervene to save it from the massive crisis. Over 1.5 crore people in India could lose their jobs in the wake of gloomy global trade trends due to Covid-19, predicted the industry body. The sectors that are heavily dependent on exports are apparel, gems, jewellery, handicrafts, engineering among others. The apparel exports sector alone estimates 2.5-3 million job losses because of order cancellations.
The unemployment tracker survey released by Centre for the Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE), the only data source of its kind that reports unemployment on a daily, monthly and quarterly basis. The CMIE interviews every day about 3,500 randomly selected persons in its consumer survey. Post-lockdown, like everything else, the survey too came to a halt. They managed to do only 2,289 interviews in the last week of March. But the data was not released as the sample was too small and the week was rather unusual. India has unfortunately shifted economically backward by many years but Government seems to be to hardly bothered with this drastic shift. The national coffers seem to get empty by the day but still no respite to the common man plight as there are no legitimate signs of a economical revival put into action on ground level. Shallow promises of care cannot be the only solution, as ground reality of most Indian’s sadly begs to differ.
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