Industrialist and philanthropist Azim Premji rightly outlined key issues in managing the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to ravage Indian hinterlands in its second wave.
Truth and science should drive the united national response against the spread of this deadly virus – that is the prescription offered by the Wipro founder who spoke at the talk series ‘Positivity Unlimited’ hosted by the Covid Response Team, a multi-stakeholders initiative coordinated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Azim Premji articulated passionately about dealing with the adverse impact of Covid on most vulnerable sections while seeking socio-economic restructuring in the medium term.
This should be preceded by the government widening and deepening the responses with speed to contain the virus and limit its impact on the poorest as the virus goes virulently rural, Premji said.
These are the very tenets on which the Modi government based its responses to manage and contain the virus. Scientific advice, truthful and objective assessment on the ground and clean, reforms-oriented governance has allowed the Modi government to continue on its unblemished track record.
Minimising the loss of lives, reducing the socio-economic distress and turning the Covid challenge into an opportunity to bolster India’s hospital infrastructure, especially in rural India, have been the guiding principles for team Modi.
There could be naysayers to this objective dissection of Covid 19 management till now. They may like to believe so, but the reality is starkly different.
For example, the RBI’s decision last week to open a Rs 50,000 crore liquidity window to ramp up medical and hospital infrastructure in 718 districts and supplement government’s Covid responses in rural India is very significant. Talk of a possible third wave and the virus reaching our villages seem to have been factored as the central bank opens the purse strings through low cost credit.
Vaccine manufacturers, their importers and exporters, priority medical device producers, hospitals and dispensaries, pathology labs, producers and suppliers of oxygen cylinders, concentrators, ventilators have been allowed to access the liquid funds for the next one year from this window. This will allow quick expansion of hospitals and critical care facilities, especially in rural and semi-urban districts.
Small and micro-businesses, apart from small ticket individual borrowers especially in rural India, have been allowed to tide over the Covid-related stress and restructure their loans by using the liquidity window. Another Rs 10,000 crore was set aside to support small payment banks that help the micro-borrowers and street vendors hit hardest in the second wave.
The second biggest weapon deployed deftly by the Modi government is the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) of funds into farmers’ accounts.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi transferred from Kisan Samman Nidhi over Rs 19,000 crore as part of income support to 9.5 crore farmers. This was the sixth instalment.
Through PM Kisan, over Rs 1.15 lakh crore has been transferred to farmers with less than two hectares land, to boost their income and liquid funds in last two years.
During Covid-19-hit 2020-21, yet another Rs 49,965 crore was credited to the bank accounts of rural farmers as part of record wheat procurements of 33.89 million tons. A large chunk of these payments have directly gone into farmers’ bank accounts in Punjab and Haryana for the first time ever. Over 3.41 million farmers have directly benefited from bank transfers that so far were dependent mostly on arthiyas or middlemen.
The pandemic’s devastating impact on labour, especially the migrant workers, is what most analysts talked about periodically with the loss in daily wages due to lockdowns or restrictions imposed in the last two months across 22 states.
But then, not many would concede that free food grain – five kilos of wheat and rice arranged by the government – made things easier for migrant labourers in the past year.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, 92.88 million tons of rice, wheat and pulses were distributed mostly flawlessly, thanks to the deep harvesting of technology in this sector dubiously famous for rampant corruption in the past.
‘One nation – One ration card’ introduced last year at the height of the pandemic’s first wave allowed beneficiaries, especially migrant labourers, to withdraw grains wherever they were located.
This portability in the withdrawal of food grains was scoffed at by opposition leaders as the Modi government’s attempt at ‘grand-standing’ to sidestep reality. But then, if 26.3 crore portability transactions have been registered across 34 states and union territories in a short span of time, what does that denote?
It clearly reflects that those below poverty line benefited from the move. If a trend analysis was to be plotted, these transactions are on the rise allowing for portability benefits that Modi critics have closed their eyes to.
The recent union cabinet decision to continue the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana into its third phase this month and June will allow millions of industry and farm workers access to food in far flung areas.
Rejigging governance scientifically and truthfully, providing cash and kind and supporting rural communities in their fight against Covid is an imperative.
Even to keep the economy on an even keel and ensure an orderly revival, there’s no escape from giving a rural push to generate enough work days. Let’s not forget that apart from keeping the agricultural output and exports on a healthy growth curve, employment of 389.37 crore person days were generated in the last fiscal.
Covid making rural inroads only reinforces that government’s strategy of going rural will have to be continued with reinforcement and vigour.
(KA Badarinath is a senior research fellow at Gurugram based think tank, Centre for Integrated & Holistic Studies.)
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