An effective lockdown

India’s containment strategy has been successful

Updated - May 27, 2020 01:34 am IST

Published - May 27, 2020 12:15 am IST

Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy

Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy

A former Finance Minister who had served under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee recently wrote an op-ed in this newspaper titled “Flawed stimulus is justice denied” (May 20). His lack of objectivity is clearly visible when he conflates the selfless contributions of NGOs with some Opposition parties that were propagating a class divide during the pandemic. In such circumstances, it becomes necessary to counter such egregious falsehoods.

Lives versus livelihoods

India’s lockdown and its enforcement has been one of the most structured exercises globally. The lockdown saved lives and its gradual easing aims to protect livelihoods. India’s lockdown, with minimum prior notice, can be contrasted with the chaos that ensued in northern Italy when the news of an imminent lockdown was leaked by the media. Thousands tried to flee northern Italy and carried the infection to other regions. In contrast, the aim of the Prime Minister’s announcement was to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread to the villages. This strategy has been successful.

During the lockdown, the government’s goal was to alleviate the hardships of the poor and vulnerable by providing free foodgrain through the PDS and by providing cash assistance through Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT). As of May 17, about 41 crore people have received financial assistance of ₹52,608 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package. The invocation of the Disaster Management Act permits State governments to use the funds available in State Disaster Response Funds for all expenses including those incurred in repatriating migrant labour. Thus any attempts to blame the Ministry of Railways in accounting for operational expenses while plying Shramik trains is grossly ill-informed.

The lockdown saw the Union government and State governments come together in charting a unified course. The Prime Minister held five meetings with the Chief Ministers of various States since the announcement of the lockdown. This calibrated approach saw the timely easing of the lockdown and a coordinated attempt at restarting economic activity.

The twin goals of self-reliance

The Prime Minister’s vision for a self-reliant India is based on two complementary goals: self-reliance of our citizens to control their outcomes and self-reliance of the nation to control its destiny. For our aspirational classes, the economic package provides adequate support to achieve the outcomes they set for themselves. Opportunities are being provided in terms of loans to start and sustain livelihoods. The package also aims to reskill our workers.

As a country, self-reliance is a concerted effort at building institutional capacities. The past term has seen us make significant strides in addressing open defecation, sanitation and empowerment of girls and women. More than 1 crore poor beneficiaries have had access to quality healthcare. Technology-enabled governance initiatives such as DBT have been instrumental for the welfare of the poor. Leadership at the top is the single-most enabling factor for building such self-reliance and resilience.

In a 2014 interview, the former Finance Minister stated that there are two kinds of expenditure — investment and consumption. He said that while the former is regarded as productive expenditure, the latter is not regarded as productive expenditure. True to his “rollback” years, the former Finance Minister has come full circle to portray large-scale government infrastructure and investment spending as “wasteful expenditure”. Contrary to his beliefs, the Central Vista project and the bullet train project are investment expenditures that would create jobs, boost the economy and build capital assets.

The government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, embraces criticism. However, it is also duty-bound to set the record straight when falsehoods and intellectual dishonesty are mainstreamed as opinions.

G. Kishan Reddy is the Minister of State for Home Affairs and is a Member of Parliament from Secunderabad constituency

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