The world is slipping into a crisis from the lockdown, say the World Bank and the United Nations. While the WB warns that about 11 million people would be in severe poverty, the UN predicts 10 per cent of world GDP would be required to rejuvenate the economy.
In his call to battle the corona pandemic, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says “it is the most challenging crisis since World War II, a human crisis and attacking societies at the core.” Indeed, the world’s industry, transport, travel, agriculture and finance are sinking. Regrettably, major powers are more into politics rather than addressing the critical issues. Large sections of the workers across the board from Canada and the US to Europe and Asia are losing jobs and those in employment are suffering heavy pay cuts. Many international airlines and companies have resorted to large lay-off of workers.
The hospitality industry is facing a grim situation as domestic, national and international meets are being cancelled and the corporate resorting to expenditure cut. The putting off of Wimbledon tennis tournament, Tokyo Olympics and many such events are adding to the woes. It may have longer term impact as many organisations are switching over to video meetings, including world and national leaders. This would weigh heavily against businesses that thrived on face-to-face and personal interaction.
India is no exception. Manufacturing activity in March came down to a four-month low. It is at 51.8 in the Purchasing Managers’ Index. The falling global demand is hitting exports. Significant trouble is seen in the new export orders and future activity indices, an indication of reducing global demand and domestic activities.
Realty is to be worst-hit as the labourers have left the metros and headed home. They are not expected to return soon. Plus, realty sales have been hit as inventories remain incomplete. Online merchants are jittery as sales and cash flows dry up.
Recall, India was least impacted by the 2007-08 sub-prime Lehman meltdown. But this time it is one of the most severely hit. The most prominent, GST collections increased by a mere 4 per cent amidst falling activities. Only the insurance sector remains a beneficiary. It has once again increased premium without any justification. The claims have also seen a fall. Sadly, the entire insurance sector is resorting to unethical practices and the regulator unfortunately remains mum.
At the same time, State governments in particular are in a mess. Their fiscal deficits touch Rs 55.24 lakh crore. Some like Rajasthan announced a five-day salary cut, Maharashtra 50 per cent wage cut from the top and Telangana cuts 75 per cent wages from the Chief Minister to the lowest level citing financial crisis. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has written to the Centre for help, else the State employees would not be paid next month’s wages.
The private sector is not lagging behind. Airlines, taxi services have announced 25 per cent wage cuts, many hotels either laid off or quietly asked employees to go home. Many other sectors including small and medium businesses, facing closure of activities and loss of production, are asking their employees to leave the jobs. Since they are not officially on any roll, they have nothing to fall back upon.
All of this has witnessed massive reverse exodus to the villages. Across India– from Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Jaipur, Kochi, Rajasthan, UP, MP, Odisha, Gujarat and other places, migrant workers having lost jobs and uncertain conditions have preferred to walk thousands of kms to reach their homes as the lockdown closed down all modes of public transport —trains, airlines and buses. West Bengal workers in Kerala are reportedly said to have walked over 2400 km to reach their destination home.
Those in Delhi, Gurugram, Ghaziabad and Noida swarmed the highways with their family members, small children and little belongings on foot. On the way they received brutal police treatment almost in every State and worse some suffered chemical spray at Bareilly, UP and other untold miseries. The country has never seen such long marches to the villages since independence, except for a brief period after MNREGA was enacted in 2005.
With the unprecedented lockdown causing panic across the country, some have questioned the reverse migration despite supposed free food being served by Delhi government. They forget that the migrant labourers are not beggars, but self-respecting people; many have small land holdings; many are average farmers, who lost their livelihood and many from higher social echelon but impoverished.
Experts say it’s a misconception that they want to live on dole and are greedy. They forsake free meals and also do not accept gifts, writes Lt Gen AK Mishra, Vice Chancellor of a university in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. He cites an instance of someone who tried to give some food items and biscuits to a woman with bags on her head on the road and walking with her family to reach their home in the village, and she told the benefactor, “Sir we have enough. Please give it to someone who needs it”.
Majority of those who left the cities reportedly explain they don’t have income, can’t pay rent or purchase food grain and are unable to live in hostile metros, where nobody cares for them. According to Delhi government statistics such workers number 55 lakh or 80 crore and 8 lakh of these are women. The lockdown has brought to the fore the abysmal conditions that over half of the country’s people live in, begging the question are they god’s forsaken children?
Another exposure across the nation is the failure of health care systems including of the richest, the US or the EU. In fact, expensive medicare insurances have failed the people there. And the lockdown in those countries are stated to be admission of failure of an expensive system, almost all over G20, that is based on high taxation, cess, fees, tolls, bank charges, arbitrary deductions (particularly in the EU and US by banks). France one of the worst-hit by corona was hit through 2019 series of violent protests against an oppressive bankisation and hi-tax system.
Coronavirus has exposed this economic and social malaise causing unprecedented miseries to the people being deprived of their incomes. It calls for more caring governance across continents. That is the concern of the UN and WB. It is easy to call for mopping up 10 per cent of world GDP for a revival, but is the most difficult task. The world needs to be humane, is one dominant message of coronavirus. No economy can thrive without a touch of humanity.