Corona Virus has created emergency situation all over the world. Lakhs of persons have been infected, thousands have died. Almost every country has been affected. The speed of spread of virus is phenomenal. However, there are silver linings. Fatality rate is only around 3 percent. Further, generally it is fatal only to old people and infants. Even these people can be saved if they get proper medical treatment. So, where is the real problem?
Real problem lies in speed of spread of the virus. It creates numerous persons seeking medical attention at the same time, to which medical infrastructure may not cope with. That is what medical specialists are referring to as peak of the curve, and trying to flatten the curve. Lockdown is seen as an effort to lower the speed of transmission of the virus, and thereby flattening the curve. However, as everything in this word, lockdown comes at its own cost. This article is an attempt to understand if lockdown is a solution to the problem, we are facing.
ICMR report says that all intervention measure can only delay the outbreak of the pandemic. They are not saying that these intervention measures will stop the spread or people will not get infected. People will get infected. The report further says that 80% of infected people will experience cold like fever and they will recover on their own [Times of India, 22.03.2020]. They may not even know that they were infected. There is no way one can stop people from getting infected, in the best scenario infection can only be delayed.
Let us say, we can delay the outbreak of the pandemic in India. What steps are being taken by the Government to utilize the time gained by delaying the pandemic outbreak? How many temporary hospitals has been created? How many non-medical persons have been trained to assist the medical fraternity to fight the pandemic? I am appalled to see the functioning of the Government. The Governments have started feeling that issuing orders are all that a government is required to do. The whole government machinery is engaged in enforcing curfew!!
Democracy is a costly form of Government. The cost of government increases every year at a rate much faster than people’s income. Tax revenue of Central Government was 3900 crores in 1973-74, which increases to 16,49,582 crores in 2019-20 [Handbook of Statistics, Reserve Bank of India]; an increase of 423 times. At what rate wage in our country has increased- it gets doubled every 18 years!! Hence, wages has increased 8 times between 1973-74 to 2019-20. Why should the cost of Government increases 423 times, when income level increases merely 8 times in the same period?
That is greatest weakness of democracy. Those who promises more freebies wins the election. And why do persons want to win election? Why do people want to join Government service? Is is for public service? Do I need to answer?
With the increasing tax revenue, level of corruption has also increased. In 1956, Feroze Gandhi, then a Member of Parliament, exposed Mundhra Scandal resulting in imprisonment of the then wealthiest man of India. The amount alleged to have been defrauded was 4 crores. 1987 Bofors allegations amounted to 64 crores kickback. By 2011, allegations under 2G spectrum case amounted to 2.5 lakhs crores. The only thing keeping pace with the increasing spending of Government is size of the kickbacks and amount allegedly involved in corruption.
Democracy cannot afford a slack economy. The experience suggests that democracy cannot reduce corruption too. Allegation of corruption can be leveled in order to secure votes, but once enough votes are secured, it is business as usual.
Despite extremely slow pace of wage increase, people are not feeling pinch is due to increasing efficiency of private sector. With increasing efficiency, the private sector has reduced the cost of producing almost all goods and services, resulting in constantly decreasing prices of essential goods. Essential things are available at a much reasonable price today as compared to old days. However, there is no such efficiency improvement in governments and cost of governance is increasing every year. As government is not concerned about its own efficiency, no such studies are ever undertaken by the government regarding its own efficiency.
A large percentage of India’s population are poor and earn daily wages. A small temporary disruption to their daily working life introduced by domenitization a couple of years back disrupted their livelihood and the economy was under pressure for many years. What will be the economic cost of present lockdown, not only in India but all over the world? We are not in a position to even imagine it. US President Donald Trump has called this lockdown “a cure worse than the problem itself”.
Is there any other way? Is their any solution to the crisis except this lockdown? I suppose yes. We know that a large percentage of people will not have much effect, even when they are infected. We can allow them to work/move freely. We understand that some persons not keeping good health or aged persons or infants are at genuine risk. We can concentrate our resources to protect them from infection, and if they get infection to give them proper medical attention.
Our medical infrastructure cannot cope with the expected number of infected persons needing medical attention due to corona outbreak. To tackle the problem, we need to create huge temporary facilities to give adequate attention to the vulnerable sections of infected persons. We need to train a large army of volunteers to assist the medical infrastructure. Unfortunately, I see not much work of that direction. Whole state machinery is engaged in enforcing curfew and sealing of borders!!
In Indian context, lockdown is already creating huge problem for workers in unorganized sector. A prolonged lockdown will result in many businesses going bust leading to huge unemployment even in organized sector. Recruitment has almost stopped which shall lead to huge army of unemployed youth. However, people are far more resilient than we can imagine. They will survive.
The real problem is government finances. Can they survive this lockdown? The tax revenue is likely to be reduced substantially. With a prolonged lockdown, the reduction in economic activity and tax revenue shall be permanent. Can government reduce its expenditure? Well, we have not seen that in the past ever. If the Government can reduce its expenditure substantially, we can afford a prolonged lockdown easily. A prolonged lockdown without reduction in government expenditure if fatal to the society.
Extraordinary times needs extraordinary solutions. We have seen that many persons private sector declaring acceptance of salary cuts. Will public servants take any salary cuts? Another cost of Governance is corruption. Will we declare that there shall be zero tolerance to corruption? If we cannot do these things, a prolonged lockdown is not affordable. This pandemic is not a mere public health challenge. It is the greatest challenge faced by democracy.
Rajesh Kumar, Advocate
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