Pranav Ghabroo (Advocate, Delhi High Court)
Anurag Garg (Assistant Commissioner, State-Tax, Himachal Pradesh)
It is now well established that current economic crises arising from COVID-19 have more severe ramifications than 2008 crises. Health experts are advocating for continuing the lockdown after it ends on April 14th but the economic fallout arising from this event cannot be ignored. The need of the hour is to ensure a proper balance between health and economy after the lockdown period ends.
More than 85 per cent of our economic activities come from the unorganised sector which includes semi-skilled labour, daily wager etc. and are the most vulnerable section of our society. As far as Himachal Pradesh is concerned graph has not risen exponentially compared to other parts of the country but this should not be taken casually and for granted. Every state has its own constraints as to the resources in hand, thus imperative state-specific measures are needed to restore the economy. States have been pondering upon their own strategies after the lockdown has been enforced.
Himachal Pradesh has a low average density of population as compared to the rest of country thus helps in effective implementation of social distancing, but this can be stretched up to one limit as the economy cannot be kept stagnant beyond a point. Now, there is a consensus between the states and centre that lockdown shall be eased in a phased manner or in a graded manner.
The economy of Himachal Pradesh is basically a rural economy where 90 per cent of the population still lives in rural areas. To ensure them the basic amenities is an important task and govt is working on it. We have robust PDS system and almost the whole of the population is covered under it. Himachal Pradesh can mull over to implement the phased strategy to exit from the lockdown.
In the first phase, a serological test can be done as it is quick and an effective remedy to identify the potential immunity to ascertain if an individual is exposed to COVID-19 or not. The data could be collected further in identifying the hotspots and therefore accordingly a strategy could be formulated for them.
In the first phase, no transport movement can be allowed but the transportation of essential goods and services can be ensured in order to avoid hardships to the public on account of non-availability of the aforesaid goods and services. Logistics are the arteries and veins of the economy and hold key to supply chain needs, therefore the government need to ensure that the needs of this sector including those of drivers be taken care of to make the resumption of normal services possible.
For daily wagers, some kind of universal income scheme should be envisaged, as apart from other expenditures, out of pocket expenditure on health facilities are still highest in India. Therefore, in order to avail basic health facilities like medicines along with ancillary expenditure on other essential items the scheme to ensure universal income becomes pertinent.
The Government should universalise the provisions of subsidised food grains under PDS till the crisis recedes. Proper awareness at Panchayat level regarding wearing of the masks and hand washing culture is necessary. Limited movement for eg.one person from each family can be allowed to ensure access to essential commodities.
Another challenge that which the pandemic has thrown upon us is the availability of the labour in this harvest season. With negligible social security and an assured income, most of the labour has been coerced to move from their work location. The government must ensure the availability of adequate labour as the apple harvesting season has arrived and, in the scenario, if no labour is made available then the economic crisis may further aggravate for the people whose sole source of the income is from the apple orchards. Apple is the most important fruit crop of Himachal Pradesh, which constitutes about 49 per cent of the total area under fruit crops and about 74 per cent of the total fruit production. Bodies like APMC be made functional so that the farmers may not be exploited by middlemen etc. at the time when these crisis are looming over the state.
In the second phase, focus should be on the livelihood, like focus on MNREGA work and opening up the MSME sectors by giving some kind of Financial stimulus by providing the acutely affected sectors with exemptions and subsidies. Identification of distressed loan in MSME sectors must be done by the banks to provide them with a moratorium and debt relief. We can monitor the factories which come under the factories act and thus implement social distancing there.
The State has to ensure that in the time being until the crisis recedes, it could develop a capacity to generate revenues on its own rather than being solely dependent upon central funds.
Opening up the liquor vends could be a right step taken in this direction, as it has been experienced in the past that in the times of crises, the black market in the liquor sector flourishes, thereby causing direct loss to the revenue of the state. Also, the access to petroleum products be made available as majority of the population resides in rural areas and therefore an easy availability of medicines etc. and other essential commodities is not possible and the people have to travel to town areas which are in quite a distance from their villages. Indeed it has to be regulated and necessary impediments could be attached to make it a conditional movement. In the second phase depending upon the circumstances, local level transportation can be started in a regulated way.
In the third phase, opening up of the schools and educational institutions in a regulated manner can be taken up. Interstate transport could be opened in a reasonable restrictive manner. Full market access to the people of an area declared as non-contagious zone should be allowed. However, the prevailing circumstances and other factors can be given consideration.
In conclusion, as Raghuram Rajan has rightly said that India has always reformed under the crises. These crises could perhaps be turned into an opportunity to bring in the long-awaited reforms like boosting the local trading, manufacturing and distribution and also implementation of certain social security services. All in all this pandemic may provide us with an opportunity to bring in more pro-people economic policies and the hardship suffered on account of it may soon be abated.
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