As we bid an eager goodbye to a pandemic-hit year that was marked by tragic deaths, major health implications, drastic changes in the way we live and work, job losses and pay cuts, and labour crisis, 2021 will be anything but a smooth ride. A variant of the coronavirus poses a new threat, even as more sectors reopen cautiously. Experts tell us what to expect this year, and what we can do to mitigate the fresh bout of challenges.
Giridhara R. Babu, professor, Head-Lifecourse Epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health, Bengaluru. He is a member of State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee
I hope in 2021, the State allocates at least 5% of the State GDP to address health promotion and disease prevention, including strengthening surveillance and outbreak response. The State should employ better-trained workforce in public health, and provide clinical services by creating separate cadres and increasing the salary comparable to CGHS scales. Increased emphasis on research and technical reviews of ongoing programmes should guide the implementation of the public health programs. Instead of adhocism to seek expert advice, the State should constitute an autonomous public health committee and regulate the programmes’ implementation. Health is not a mere absence of illness; health determinants are the lifestyle we lead, the food we eat, the air we breathe, and a stress-free life. I hope the outlook to manage health changes, from sickness resolving approach to truly empowering social change, facilitated by the government as a catalyst.
Narendra Pani, professor and dean, School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies
The year 2021 will reveal just how much Karnataka has learned from the pandemic. Some of the lessons could be very positive. The information technology companies that are able to arrive at the right mix of work-from-home and attendance in office could develop noticeable cost advantages. The more difficult lessons would be in manufacturing. As workers come under pressure to step up productivity or accept lower wages, or both, much would depend on how they react. And if the overall socio-political climate is one that encourages violence of different kinds, it would be futile to expect the workplace to be immune from the larger emerging culture of aggressive intimidation.
Rishikesh B.S., associate professor, Azim Premji University
Schools have already begun to commence in a phased manner, but until the pandemic is over, we should expect short closures for sanitising every time positive cases are detected. Decentralised decision making at the panchayat level is the key. The inadequacy of online learning has led to some State Education Departments adopting more direct teaching-learning processes such as Vidyagama in Karnataka. This will be the way forward till the pandemic is under control. The key issue to tackle will be ‘loss of earlier learning’ or ‘academic regression’ – and as with anything else impact will be deeper for disadvantaged groups. As suggested by NEP 2020, the time is apt for curriculum revision such that the focus is on the core essentials in every subject. This is an educationally sound way to move forward than attempting to finish syllabus. There is also the possibility of many children dropping out of school altogether. Schools will have to understand this and help children through it.
LAW AND ORDER
S.T. Ramesh, former Director General and Inspector General of Police, Karnataka
The police should be watchful of fresh waves of the pandemic. It is inevitable that they will be involved in the entire gamut including vaccination work such as transport, storage, distribution, and manning of vaccination centres. The economic downturn caused by the pandemic will have its fallout in higher crime rate particularly cyber, white collar and economic crimes, and those with newer modus operandi. If contentious national issues like the farmers’ and doctors’ agitations gain momentum, they may have to be handled with patience. 2021 is likely to be anything but easy for Karnataka police.
Siddhartha Krishnan, sociologist and historian of conservation and sustainability, faculty at ATREE, Bengaluru
Urban oriented economic growth is inequitable and risky, we learnt this pandemic year. Lockdowns forced a painful retreat of rural migrants. But they also curtailed emissions and pollution; and pleasantly enhanced wildlife presence. But 2020 is also an unlearning watershed. We should expect to discard some policy and personal habits in 2021. We expect State governments to stop treating rural migrants as cheap and needy labour source to build and service unsustainable cities like Bengaluru, and that they legislate dignified earning and living opportunities. Another prospect is decongesting cities through hybrid work from office and home arrangements. This pollution reducing effort must be alert to domestic abuse, as men spend more time at home.
TRAVEL AND TOURISM
Sanjar Imam, president, Karnataka Tourism Forum
Will people want to travel again and go on holidays? Yes, surely. One thing is certain; we won’t be able to travel as freely as we used to. Group travel itself, whether to make acquaintances or save money, will reduce as travelling with strangers will always seem suspect. Large-scale conferences and conventions will also go through a transformation and perhaps give rise to a different model of congregation. Selecting an airline will not just depend on airfare, but also hygiene, seating configuration, and preventive procedures. The role of travel advisors will become increasingly important as travellers will seek updated information and guidance.
Ashish Verma, associate professor, Transportation Systems Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
As economic activities inch closer to pre-COVID-19 levels in 2021, traffic congestion and connected externalities of tailpipe emissions are also expected to reach pre-pandemic levels. Adding to the problem, automobile sales are likely to spike due to perception of higher virus risk on public transport. On the brighter side, government initiatives and policies on promoting walking and cycling will scale up and will lead to some modal shift towards them. However, public transport undertakings are likely to continue their struggle in regaining ridership at least till first half of 2021, after which and based on vaccination status, commuters confidence in using public transport may return.
Prakash Kammaradi, retired professor of agricultural economics, UASB; former chairman, Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, GoK
To gauge livelihood status of farmers instantaneously, an innovative Farmers’ Livelihood Index may be thought of. A fully empowered and statutory body such as Farmers Income Commission should be established immediately. Withholding of formalising farm Acts and a special Parliament or Assembly sessions for threadbare discussions on all aspects of farm economy and farmers livelihood security may be best face-saving option for BJP-headed governments in the Centre and the State. Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, in its report submitted to government during 2018, recommended an elaborate road map to ensure a minimum 50% profit margin while announcing MSP, as recommended by National Commission on Farmers headed by M.S. Swaminathan. Utilisation of procured farm commodities for public distribution, various ongoing welfare programmes is a win-win solution for farmers and poor consumers.