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The Other Side Of Lockdown

The Other Side Of Lockdown

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic almost all the countries across the globe have adopted more or less the same strategies to combat the outbreak of the deadly virus.

With forced internment assumed to be the most effective method to combat the outbreak, lockdowns have found favour with all the nations. India too is under effective lockdown since March 25.

But with the country in the grips of an economic downslide for quite some time now, the lockdown brings with it its own share of fiscal problems that the country will find difficult to ignore.

Entailing the closure of all industrial establishments and other business activities which do not come under the ambit of essential services, the government has smothered any chance it has of reviving the economy.

These are compulsions that come of a difficult period demanding equally tough actions!

But in its haste to ensure that the working class is not left in the lurch, it has passed strictures to the effect that private companies should strictly abstain from cutting salaries or resorting to layoffs of their workers.

This however is a tough proposition for factory owners and other private entrepreneurs. And the advisories issued by the government open the floodgates to legal disputes which could go on in courts across the country for years together.  

The humanitarian approach by the government on this matter and under these mitigating circumstances is no doubt laudable, but a lot depends on how well, and reasonably, the government ‘compensates’ the private sector with adequate financial subsidizations to withstand the rigours of the calamitous situation brought about by the novel Coronavirus pandemic.

With an extended period of lockdown an absolute certainty now, shouldn’t the government be taking an unbiased stand and come to the rescue of the employers as well who are bearing the brunt of the country’s war against the novel Coronavirus!

As it is the lockdown has drastically affected the revenue stream of the companies and hit their bottom lines.

Besides they have to content with a host of other statutory compliances. Extending deadlines does not in any way soften the obligations.

In a rare show of magnanimity, the government did announce a slew of measures to deal with the economic distress caused due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown announced to deal with the situation.

But in the absence of some concrete guidelines, most of the concerned departments have expressed their inability to pass on the benefits.

For instance, the government very graciously accepted the responsibility to pay the employee provident fund (EPF) share of both the employer and employee for the next three months in order to ensure that employees’ EPF continuity is not lost.

The local offices were however unable to give satisfactory answers about it till the very last date for filing returns for the month of March, which also has been subsequently extended.

Just announcing relief packages hardly serves any purpose!

As so rightly said, India is probably facing its greatest emergency since independence. As events that delivered economic shocks from which the country had not recovered when the Coronavirus pandemic struck, the demonetization exercises of 2016 and the 2017 GST rollout have undoubtedly had profound effects on the nation’s economy.

The magnitude of the impact of a complete social and economic shutdown would be tough to estimate. However the nation has to think about reviving productive activity and also restoring public confidence.

The Prime Minister has announced the extension of the lockdown till May 3. But how prudent is it to keep on extending the period of lockdown. No doubt, human life is more precious. As a Hindi proverb goes: ‘Jaan hey tho Jahaan hey!” 

Health is wealth! To be alive is the greatest feeling. But being alive entails a lot many other factors which make living all the more desirable. If a man is bereft of the basic necessities in life, the gift of life would not be cherished any more.

Hence it becomes essential that the government decides on restoring normalcy in the country gradually and in a phased manner. India is passing through a horrendous time and it would not help to rush into things.

In this regard, the PM’s adoptive slogan for the current times carries a validity about it that cannot be disregarded.

‘Jaan bhi, jahaan bhi’ as a catchphrase sums up the mood of the nation as it is now impertinent to the future of the country. In these trying times it is essential that amidst the raging war with Coronavirus, the government turns its attention not only to saving lives but also securing the livelihoods of the populace

Indications are that this phase of the lockdown will see the government broadly focusing on a two-pronged action plan. While containing the spread of COVID-19 will no doubt gain priority, plans will also be afoot to resume economic activities in a staggered manner.

The government has divided the country into red, orange and green zones based on the number of Covid-19 cases, and allowed some industrial activity in orange and green areas; these relaxations to boost economic activities in the country come as a welcome move. 

Moreover, with the government considering giving more reprieves to the agricultural sector in face of an extension of the current shutdown, it could well be said that things are pretty much moving in the right direction.

(Published on 20th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 17)