We need a proactive policy effort based on post-pandemic realities of the country’s economic potential

Covid-19 is probably one of the topics about which more has been written and spoken than perhaps any other subject in the last several months. The subject itself would be suffering from some kind of “author’s fatigue.” Content wise, the articles have little more to say than perhaps reflecting philosophically or administratively on certain categories, policies or more. All this is a part of life and several media fora flourish on this. So be it!

On May 25, in a write-up titled Impenetrable Barriers in these columns, a description had been put forth on the logic and birth of the concept of the National Capital Region (NCR). It pointed out how an over-anxious administrative zeal on the part of some in the affected NCR States had created impenetrable boundaries, barricaded with permits. For weeks, misguided zeal, an ill-informed search for solutions and an urge for seeking applause had created a state of competitive “statism.” Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi took turns to make the life of average law-abiding citizens hapless, forcing them to try and build bridges in an attempt to integrate divided lives across barricaded State borders. There is at least some data on faulty test kits, alternate test kits, the number of people tested and the number of people who ought to be tested but there is no data available on how many suffered and in what manner, (all in the name of containing Covid-19) due to the closure of State borders. It may be recalled that much of this was post the lockdown phase of Covid-19.

Bless the Home Minister of India, who announced from a forum on June 18 that NCR for the purposes of the present concerns and more, should be seen as one unit. In matters like this, no credit needs be claimed but one needs to count one’s blessings. Since the Home Minister made this announcement, at least, the comparative babble of containing the virus through entry passes seems to have receded. What the future will bring remains to be seen.

The truth is, that as of now, the only instruments of containing Covid-19 are the common sensical ones of basic hygiene, social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding crowded events and the like. This is no rocket science. All diseases would be better controlled with these measures. Only in the case of Covid-19, they seem to be the only route. The drug and pharmaceutical options are clearly months away even though there has been some progress in the right direction. Of course if you are rich and powerful or both, you can get into a hospital where your influence or money could move the treatment from one to the other of the five-six options available and hopefully, something would work.

Earlier in this text, there have been references to a kind of fatigue that is setting in with all Coronavirus-related issues. A similar fatigue is setting in on social media platforms too. Messages and jokes on strained husband-wife relations on account of the “absconding” maid are becoming fewer, wisecracks on domestication have significantly reduced and spaces so vacated are being taken over by China-bashing and posts on rejection of Chinese made goods and so on.

The kind of leadership shown by the Home Minister could be emulated by the Finance Minister. Few will doubt her attempt to try but it becomes more effective if the attempt is focussed. Doling out money in its various incarnations, including in the so-called bailout plans for the banks, in the past, did not work. Now the fond hope is that if you cut down the EPF share of the working individual and thereby put more money in the people’s hands, the economy would boom. Even an undergraduate student of economics would know that this is the classical case of misconceived economic corelation. There are other options of course. Clearly, all is not lost on the economic front. Some of the sectors of the pharma industry are poised for big gains. That gain itself may be coterminous with Covid-19. The important thing is to select lines of pharmaceutical industry, which are prone to multiple drug formulations from an assortment of drug research streams. Those who have dealt with technology-oriented start-ups know that it is doable. At the policy level, both at the Centre and at the States, this could be done. It could be done by channelising of funding in a sectoral mode. However, this can only happen if focussed policy frameworks modulate the propensity to chase the last wagon of the train.

Now that it is obvious that, whether officially accepted or not, 2020 is a “zero year”, there needs to be some attention on a proactive policy effort focussed on the realities of the economic potential. Our success in the motorcycle sector, especially in the manufacturing of its component parts, is a good example. It establishes what Indian acumen can do with a little bit of support and some encouraging policies.