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Helping Out

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It is more or less certain that the nationwide lockdown will be continued beyond 15 April – Odisha has already declared its extension to 30 April. India has already paid a heavy economic and social cost in this battle against the Corona Virus and it would all be a waste if a premature rollback should undo whatever good has been done. At the same time, however, suggestions have begun to pour in from, primarily, commercial and industrial associations regarding the measures to be taken on restarting the economy. There is also the challenge to ensure that the many who have been put out of employment or have had their salaries suspended manage to survive during this period. The health crisis has also got to be managed, requiring sufficient supply of the essentials required to do so. It is also important to be in sync with steps being taken internationally to revive trade and financial transactions.

Strange as it may seem, things will get better for the daily wagers and odd-jobbers faster than for those in institutionalised jobs, because the pent-up demand will be for this class of workers after movement of people is allowed. There will be, for instance, a lot of work needing to be done by plumbers, electricians, domestic help, gardeners, etc., in homes and colonies around the country. Certainly barbers will see a huge rush and, if it can be made possible in terms of social distancing, the eateries and restaurants. However, business establishments that have a more formal structure, requiring supply of goods and raw materials to be brought on line, distributors and retailers functional again, will see difficult days. It will be a long time before the malls and cinema halls open again.

While a lot of suggestions have been made by each sector from its perspective – in fact, some are even hoping to profit from government giveaways – the primary requirement will be easy availability of working capital. Held up salaries will need to be paid, pending payments made to those up and down the chain, and essential items purchased for business to resume. The system should begin with this basic requirement.

But, people cannot just look towards the government to solve their problems. It has to be a societal response, beginning from the very grassroots. This lies behind the appeal made by the Prime Minister asking each comparatively better off family to help one other family in need. Every street, village, mohalla, basti, town and city can bring about a dramatic change in the situation if this is brought into effect. There are innumerable ways in which this can be done – all it needs is a sympathetic heart.