~ Alisha Mehra
2020 so far has been a wave of surprises and discernments. Many have reorganized themselves to cut out in this ever-increasing digital world. These unforeseen events started with a blend of social and political crisis starring an environmental dilemma on top of it. The starting note of the year could be marked as a bit more liberal as the world saw protesters in Hong Kong take part in the annual new year day march opposing the fugitive amendment bill imposed by China, organizers claimed that over one million people took part in it. Not that far away, the Australian bushfires killed as many as 500 million animals. Simultaneously we witnessed the report of the novel coronavirus published by WHO, a deadly virus with symptoms of pneumonia. All this took place within the first 10 days of 2020. One could say that we were off to a great start.
Initialization of the Pandemic
Even though India was not far behind, on 30th January 2020, India reported its first case of COVID-19 coupled with a great footing provided by the CAA and NRC protests. The infamous Delhi riots which took place in the northeast of Delhi brought with its bloodshed and property destruction. After a week of the merciless massacre, hundreds of wounded could be easily spotted languishing in inadequately staffed medical facilities and corpses in open drains. According to some reports, the riots had their origin in Jaffrabad, North East Delhi, where a sit-in by women against India’s citizenship (amendment) act, 2019 had been in progress on a stretch of the Seelampur–Jafrabad–Maujpur road. The exams of thousands of students were postponed due to these riots. At about the same time, a political crisis closely tiptoed its way in Madhya Pradesh wherein MR. Kamal Nath, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh resigned due to the instability caused by the resignation of MLA Jyoti Aditya Scindia from the INC. On 22nd March, a nationwide lockdown was announced. COVID-19 had now been declared as a global pandemic and had set in motion a series of events that would leave an indelible impact on the people, as well as on the economy,
An early lockdown was long unjustified for many, presaging enormous damage to livelihoods as well as already ill patients. Ramping up testing, arranging enough beds, providing oxygen support as well as streamlining quarantine facilities were thus given priority.
Pre-coronavirus pandemic i.e., before the lockdown, in the financial year 2019-20 which ended on 31st March 2020, the GDP growth rate had already fallen to just 3.1% according to the Ministry of Statistics—even less than the 1950s rate of growth of 3.5%. The GDP estimate for the 2019-20 year with the exchange rate of Rs. 70.39 per dollar, yielded a $2.9 trillion GDP which ought to have touched the $5 trillion level by 2024-25, however, the lockdown led the Indian economy to a negative trajectory.
On 27 March, Prime Minister’s investor’s service revised its estimate of India’s GDP growth for 2020 from 5.3% to 2.5%. The World Bank and rating agencies revised India’s growth for FY2021 with the lowest figures India had seen in three decades since India’s economic liberalization in the 1990s. The total economic loss in the 1st quarter of 2020-2021 was more than 40% although recovery is expected in quarter 2. COVID-19 impact pushed India’s $5 trillion dreams 3 years back and has forced India to head into its first recession in four decades.
Condition of Small Businesses
At the same time, small businesses together with the businesses driven by young entrepreneurs were hit the hardest by the economic fall-out prompted by the pandemic. The gruelling lockdown measures enacted to contain the spread of the coronavirus resulted in supply chain disruptions and a massive drop in demand in most sectors. Similarly, leading consumer goods companies said over 600,000 Kirana outlets may have closed during the lockdown, hurt by a liquidity crunch or the return of owners to their villages, and the fear is that most of them may not reopen.
India has about 10-12 million small retail outlets selling grocery and other fast-moving consumer goods but a large number of them are fragmented and located in the hinterland. AIMRA president Arvinder Khurana stated, “amid these challenges, operational costs have more than doubled, which can lead to a permanent closure of several thousand stores,”.
Not to mention the country’s unemployment rate soared immediately after the lockdown came into place. Information from Asia times attests that INDIA is home to 69 million micro, small and medium enterprises and employs close to 110 million people. A study by the all India Manufacturers’ Association indicated that if the lockdown continues for four weeks, 19% of jobs will be lost and if it stretches to eight weeks, almost 43% of jobs will be lost. Ravi Venkatesan, who heads that global alliance for mass entrepreneurship, a platform for entrepreneurs, told the economic times that while each sector would encounter job losses, the hospitality and retail sectors would be the worst hit and the hospitality industry alone employs 40 million people across the country, while the retail industry employs 46 million people.
The unemployment rate rose to the highest level of 27.1% on May 3, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Small traders and wage labourers seem to be among the worst hit by the lockdown. More than 9 crore people lost their livelihood in just about a month. The lockdown extended several times afterwards, taking a heavy toll on India’s economy and caused millions of people to lose their jobs – many of whom rely on daily labour to earn money. Manpower shortage compelled migrant workers to return from their workplaces in the cities to their homes in villages. Days after the lockdown came into force, lakhs of migrants, including daily wage workers, walked, cycled or hitchhiked to their home states hundreds, sometimes thousands, of kilometres away. Discussing the cascading effect of this migration on the economy as well as the emotional state of the workers, many are calling into question the potency of the governmental measures.
The lockdown was expensive, and its cost was far higher than the economic loss suffered by the country, however, everything happening in the world as well as in the country beckoned more horror to follow. The leaky lockdowns sparked outrage all over India, the paralyzed healthcare system of some states such as Bihar proved incapable of sustaining its large population. Although the government tried to fill the gaps in healthcare as soon as possible through the strict lockdowns, the insufficiency was apparent in the rising number of cases coupled with the ill-equipped healthcare workers.
While on one hand, India is fighting a bruising battle, #mental health was trending on social media until a few weeks ago. Many were optimistic that the stigma relating to mental health would finally reach its course in the 21st century, however, the actual problem had just begun. Both the pandemic and actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide sparked more discussions and debates about mental health than psychologists so far combined. Numerous celebrities came forward to express their views as well as conspire the cause of his death, a few also volunteered to narrate their woes occasioned by the tyranny in Bollywood and the breeding nepotism.
To spare ourselves more misery we can acknowledge the coronavirus impact on education. The lockdown has propelled the education sector to switch to innovative methods of education and have a tighter relationship with technology. In the opinion of NCERT director, Hrushikesh Senapaty, despite the hype over online classes, the reality is most children don’t have access to them. There are other obstacles to education as well, many schools have hiked their fees. With unemployment rates rising and many companies reducing their labour costs by cutting out on their employees’ salaries, this move might seem a bit arbitrary and inconsiderate and will lead to children dropping out of schools. Although some schools have found their substitute in online classes, many schools have ceased to conduct classes altogether. The digital divide that has emerged subsequently is a grave problem because only 2 states have rural internet connectivity of more than 40% and the average runs around 10-20% in India. Due to the economic impact, many people who have been pushed into poverty would now send their children to work rather than educating them in schools. This has increased anxiety and depression among students resulting in suicides. New York City recently announced that 1800 schools will reopen in September. A survey shows that 75% of parents support this decision. Why do then Indian parents dread sending their children to schools?
The NPR report says that children can be together every day and still not start an outbreak since they are one of the least vulnerable groups to COVID-19. Though there is an unwillingness in opening colleges, reopening schools proceeds to be a major debate now and would require top-notch protocols on social distancing, health and hygiene even an odd-even sort of arrangement etc.
This year has sparked an idea of life indoors, a concept of living life beyond the rush. AAR managing partner martin jones says “the lockdown is clearly giving everyone the opportunity to pause and reflect on what they had accepted as a normal practice and the approach to pitching will definitely change as a result.”
Unquestionably 2020 has been a nasty piece of work amidst cyclones assaulting the Indian subcontinent, earthquakes striking different parts of India, swarms of locusts destroying crops, students committing suicides, the political crisis in addition to rising unemployment and poverty in the country. It crept up on us unsuspectingly and began burning our lives down. As far as the inquiry into 2020 being a boon or a bane goes, let’s just say, the term ‘bane’ sounds fairly appropriate.
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