Nagrik Dialogue

Time for Tough Decisions in Post COVID times

Prof PB Sharma

The prolonged nation-wide lockdown has undoubtedly helped India to control the spread of Corona virus very well. As against almost 2.2 million cases worldwide, India has only 13500 COVID-19 cases in a country of 1.3 billon people. This is all the more important when the strongest of the nations like US have approximately 680000 corona cases followed by Spain and Italy having 185000 and 169000 respectively. In fact, Europe and US together account for 80% of the infected cases and 77% of total deaths 150000 worldwide till date. But then the recipe of self-isolation and complete lockdown of economic activity has come at an enormous cost of devastation of economies around the globe, be it manufacturing, trade, business, tours and travel and IT services.

Never it was thought that we shall lend ourselves in a time when the entire surface and air transport including public and private vehicles, trains, metros and the airlines shall be closed for over a month and that even the poor man’s weekly bazars and the e-deliveries for middle class will all be banned. What more there are still no clear signs for the effective control of this global pandemic COVID-19.

But then, there is a positive side of the Corona Lockdown that cannot be brushed aside. It is in respect of its positive impact on the health of the environment. It is a pleasant surprise that we are back with a blue sky and with air quality indices like PM1 registering as low as 10 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), PM2.5 has come down to 20 µg /m3 and PM10 around 40 µg/m3 in a country like India that has the history of touching the highest levels of AQI of 999 µg/m3 or even higher at many times during the year. Likewise, the holy rivers like Ganga and Yamuna which could not be depolluted by best of our efforts during the last one decade are being reported to be flowing with the cleanest water ever during the Corona virus lockdown.

What more, almost one death every two minutes, amounting to 750 deaths per day that were taking place due to rash driving and road accidents have also been averted, saving some 30000 deaths during the 39days lockdown due to little or no mobility on roads and highways of India. Thanks to COIVD-19 for saving so many lives.

The billion dollar question therefore is whether we the people of India and our government of the day can take some tough, even unpleasant decisions, such as implementing zero tolerance policy towards polluting industries, polluting power plants, polluting heavy vehicles, dusty mines and construction sites and energize and engage municipal corporation, MCDs and civic services to effectively implement efficient waste management measures and maintain a clean and dust free environment that shall guaranty continued saving of millions of lives that were being lost due to air and water pollution and by sluggish enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. Heavy investment for treatment of wastewater and sewage should be made in India, as we currently treat no more than 30% of sewage in our country (22963MLD treated against the swage generation of 61754 MLD) and allowing uncontrolled flow of dirty and toxic drains directly into our rivers and water bodies.

But then it requires an iron will on part of the government and also mandates the fullest of public awakening and support to lead India and its 1.3 plus billion people to such healthy times once COVID lockdown is declared withdrawn completely or in a phased manner as may be decided by the government in the coming days.

There is also an urgent need for the review the traffic plan in mega cities like Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata and enforce strict traffic discipline on roads and highways of India as the road accidents alone are the single largest killer in India apart from heart attacks, chronic respiratory diseases and cancers, much of these deaths are also attributed to environmental pollution that kills us from head to toes.

As far the economic disruption, the recent IMF Report 2020 has already warned that “The global economy is projected to contract by 3% in 2020, much worse than the financial crisis of 2008-09”. As per the IMF 2020 report, US economy shall sink by 5.9%, Europe by 7.5%, and India by 1.9%. But the good news is that the WEF outlook for 2021 has projected the global economy to bounce back with high positive growth wherein India is projected to grow at 7.4% in 2021. This positive growth for India would however require robust policy interventions to help the crippled industry, business and service sector to regain the necessary buoyancy to sail and swim with a positive outlook during the time of deep global recession.

While revival of economic growth is important, equally important would be to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 that predicts that over half a billion people around the globe could be pushed into poverty, half of these in East Asia Pacific as per the recent report of WEF 2020.

The RBI has already announced today a series of measures that are rightly aimed to provide the financial stimulus to various instruments of economic system. But it must be ensured through policies and strict guidelines that much of the benefit should go to revive the “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid”. As such the poor, middle class and daily wagers at the bottom of the pyramid need to be supported such that the financial stimulus through agencies like NABARD results in a productive utilization of the financial stimulus, creating both the productive use of the stimulus and also improving the purchasing power of the middle class and poor to boost the domestic demand. This becomes all the important as we already have a massive disruption of economy caused by increased automation and industry 4.0 technologies that have pushed human workforce out of many jobs that are increasingly being taken over by their robotic co-workers on the strength of AI and Machine Learning Technologies. It would therefore be wiser to invest in creating new jobs through strengthening the supply chain and the value chain to take the fullest advantage of Industry 4.0 in India by accelerating massification of entrepreneurship and startups in plenty, now that the power of innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurship has been unleashed by the young India, says Prof PB Sharma, Vice Chancellor of Amity University Gurugram who is also the Founder Vice Chancellor of Delhi Technological University and Past President of the Association of Indian Universities

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Nagrik Dialogue is the face of Nagrik Foundation’s communication skills that comes in the form of a monthly magazine. It will work as a bridge for those working at the grass roots level and those who support them in any form and manner.