As expected, the nationwide lockdown has been extended by Prime Minister Modi to 3 May. It was also expected that measures would be announced on getting economic activity going again, particularly that which are crucially necessary even during the lockdown period – such as harvesting crops, producing medicines and other essential products, as also the sectors that keep the nation connected in many ways. While preparations have been on in full swing in this regard after consultation at political and industry levels and the detailed plan in this regard will be announced on 15 April, what is noteworthy is that it will unfold after another week of the ongoing lockdown conditions. Better performance in preventing virus spread has also been incentivised.
The primary concern, of course, is the well-being of the migrant labourers and the poor. While there is much being done by governments and social organisations to feed them in the cities, there are many living in remote areas – such as in Uttarakhand’s hills – who have not received any aid. While there are many who believe that the migrants should have been allowed to make their way home, it must be noted that they will be greatly needed where are to restart the economy when the restrictions begin to be lifted. One example of this is the need for labour in harvesting operations. As such, caring for them is not just a benevolent human act, but also makes good business sense in the longer run. It is unfortunate that the very people they depended on for their livelihood abandoned them so readily within days, taking their presence for granted whatever happens and revealing the exploitative nature of the relationship. This makes it all the more imperative for government agencies to cover the last mile in ensuring the well-being of this precious resource.
Also adversely affected are the invisible employees of numerous business organisations from the small to the mega level who have been laid off or had to suffer income loss merely because the managements refuse to take a hit on profits, instead of adopting innovative solutions. Such business practices have been the bane of the economy in many countries, weakening the very structure on which they are based. It is necessary that, after the lockdown is lifted and something of normalcy restored, such organisations are identified and exposed to the public eye. Consumers should make their purchasing choices on the basis of this information. Rating agencies should also lower their rankings as employers and producers. There are tough days ahead, but preparations need to be made for a better, more humane society in the future, based on the present experience.