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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 25, New Delhi, June 6, 2020

NCoV19 and Selling India Inc. Model of Self-Reliance with Local Rhetoric

Saturday 6 June 2020

by D M Diwakar


The 2019 Novel Corona Virus (2019-nCoV) pandemic detected from Wuhan (China) has created unprecedented crises before the world economy and society. Since a vaccine to combat this virus was yet to be developed by the world medical science communities, the World Health Organization (WHO) circulated region specific general health emergency guidelines (WHO, 2020) after outbreak of 2019-nCoV pandemic in China in December 2019. Testing, Tracing, Tracking, Sanitizing, Isolating to quarantine, physical distancing, etc., remained so far the measures and solutions for safety. Millions of people were identified infected and hundreds of thousands were suffered tragic deaths. The world economy, which was being brought back on track after Global Meltdown effect, witnessed unprecedented major setback after lockdown in many countries since January 2020. International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated unprecedented loss in working hours, output of goods and services, income and apprehending millions of working population to be pushed into poverty syndrome due to lockdown (ILO, April 29,2020).

Many countries, with a few exceptions, observed lockdown and announced economic packages to save their people from infection of the 2019-nCoV. A few countries such as, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, North and South Korea, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, etc., could manage in a better way than many other countries, such as, France, Italy, England, USA, etc., and save the lives of their people and economy. Since, the world is globalized and markets are integrated specially after the Washington Consensus led new economic policy (NEP) regime and emergence of liberalization, privatization, and globalization with multilateral trade through the World Trade Organization (WTO), the world economy across the globe has suffered heavily, not only because production was stopped in many countries, but also because the import and export of essential commodities and raw materials, machinery and other inputs were restricted.

India is not an exception so far infection of 2019-nCoV and lockdown impacts are concerned. India too initiated many measures to tackle the crises of 2019-nCoV and many packages were announced to address the challenges including Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-Reliance Campaign). This article is an attempt to understand these measures of self-reliant model with localizing Indian economy. In this exercise data available from official reports and websites of government of India and international agencies have been used. This exercise is divided into three parts. Part one deals with announced measures of economic packages and provisions, Part two discusses its implications and part three is an attempt to thread in discussion to draw inferences and conclusions.

Spread of 2019-nCoV 

The 2019-nCoV travelled through air passenger and infected India too. Initial precautions were put in place but the preparation was not sufficient, as testing, tracing, tracking, isolating to quarantine, sanitizing, physical distancing, etc., were not possible at mass scale and personal protection equipment (PPE), mask, gloves, etc., were not available, as per requirement. Customary checking of international flights were not enough. International flights were neither cancelled nor passengers were quarantined initially. Moreover, huge influx of international passengers to India, because of panic, made the situation more vulnerable. Despite lockdown the cases and deaths have been increasing. As a result, the 2019-nCoV spread across the regions. Despite successive four lockdowns to control 2019-nCoV, number of infected cases and death were increasing with the increasing capacity of testing. About 1.53 lakh infected cases are identified until 28 May, 67691 were either cured or discharged, and 4531 died so far (GoI, 2020). However, recovery rate had also been increasing. It was argued that the cases could have been more than what India actually had after lockdown. Counter arguments were otherwise. Had international flights been cancelled after world advisory of WHO, lockdown was not required for Indian economy.

Janta Curfew and Lockdown

The Prime Minister of India announced Janta Curfew as measure on March 19, to be imposed by the Government of India on 22nd March with clapping, plate beating in the evening in appreciation of health service providers and administration for their services. On 24th March he announced complete lockdown since 25th March, 2020 with a slogan ‘jan hai to jahan hai’ (first save life then anything) as an effective strategy followed by second and third phase of lockdown. The Prime Minister appealed for lighting lamp at nine o clock at night on April 5. This date and time had historical importance for Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), as the decision to launch BJP was taken four decades ago on April 5, in 1980. The second and third lockdowns were a little better prepared in terms of relief, masks, gloves, personal protection equipment (PPE), ventilators, etc., as these lockdowns were done after consultations with states, but preparations and measures remained grossly insufficient. Moreover, scientific bases for these measures were still missing.

Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan

Before fourth phase of lockdown the Prime Minister of India addressed to nation on 12th May, 2020, after consultation with the states. This speech was full of rhetoric and focused on rebuilding Indian economy to achieve self-reliance with difference, named Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self Reliant India Campaign) as second phase of liberal reforms. According to him, it was not self-centered, but with wellbeing of the world with a slogan ‘jan bhi aur jahan bhi’ (life as well as world). Unfolding this campaign of self-reliance the Prime Minister articulated his vision of economic reforms of 21st century, which reckoned a framework of economic centric vs human centric world and followed India’s cultural tradition of vasudhaiv kutumbkam (global family) and jai jagat (global wellbeing) with spirit of living with mother earth. In this vision the self-reliance would bring happiness, peace to make people empowered. In this framework, local produce would compete globally and people would be vocal for local. This goal of self-reliant India would be achieved through dutifulness, climax of diligence and capital of skills. He emphasized that this spirit was not only need of hour but also our responsibility for better lives.

This reform was based on economy with quantum jump instead of incremental economy, modern infrastructure, technology driven system, vibrant demography, and demand and supply chain of Indian economy. In this model, there was space for every one, poor, labourers, and self-employed, etc., in organized and unorganized sectors focused on local manufacturing and marketing supply chain. In order to achieve this objective of self-reliance he announced an economic package of Rs.20 lakh crores, the details of which was later followed by the Finance Minister. This economic package also included previous announcements of the Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Following announcement of the Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (ABA) of the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister announced the details of economic reforms and stimulus packages in five tranches of her press conferences since 13.05.2020 to 17.05.2020 (GoI, 2020a). First media briefing was related to business and micro small and medium enterprises (MSME) with Rs. 5, 94, 550 crore. Part-2 was focused on poor, including migrant workers, street vendors, small and marginal farmers, mudra shishu loan, affordable housing, support to tribal, etc., with Rs. 310, 000 crore, Part-3 was related to agriculture reforms, capacity building of infrastructure, livestock, herbal cultivation and beekeeping, with Rs. 150,000 crore. Part-4 was dealing with new horizons of growth through privatization and incentives for participation of private investment in public sectors, such as, mining, defence, space, atomic energy, etc., and Part-5 consisted of government reforms and enablers for ease of doing business. Combined package for Part -4 and 5 was Rs.48100 crore. Packages for all five tranches altogether were of Rs.11,02,650 crore.

Besides these five packages, earlier measures announced as a relief to 2019-nCoV were of Rs. 1,92,800 crore for Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). Out of initial package of Rs.1,70,000 crore Rs.70,000 crore were on existing schemes, Rs.40,000 crore on ration, Rs.1500 crore to women at the rate of Rs.500 each, and Rs.60,000 crore to senior citizen at the rate of Rs.1000 to each for three months, Rs.15000 crore for health emergency, and Rs.7800 crore tax concession. The RBI liquidity measures were already taken for commercial banks to the tune of Rs.8,01,603 crore before the announcement of the Prime Minister. These two measures were of Rs. 9,94,403 crore. Altogether Rs.20,97,053 crore were announced in so-called mega economic package to the tune of 10 per cent of GDP. Instead of relief package this 2020 initiative was the major loan package and the second phase of major economic reforms (disinvestment and privatization) taken up without homework by the Government of India led by National Democratic Alliances (NDA) in continuation of the economic reforms by the Central Government led by United Progressive Alliance in 1991. When a media correspondent asked a question to the Finance Minister about the inflow of these funds, the Finance Minister was clueless and advised correspondent to focus on the outflow of funds only.

This revealed non-seriousness and unplanned announcement without any homework. It further implied that these detailing of package had no teeth as such, because before lockdown the Government of India already announced about 40 per cent less revenue collections from Goods and Services Tax (GST) in the last session of parliament and after lockdown there was no significant collection since April. This had serious implication on financial health of India Inc. Therefore, there was every possibility that grant elements in economic package would be at minimum scale and bank credit and loans would prevail, which was meaningless in absence of effective demand and incentives to investors.

MSME Package

This MSME package included (i) Collateral free automatic loan fund up to Rs. 3 lakh crore for four years with a moratorium of one year from repayment of principal loan amount. (ii) Subordinate debt to Stressed MSME was provided with assistance of Rs 20,000 crore through credit guarantee trust (CGT). (iii) Equity Infusion in viable MSME, which needed handholding support had provision of funds of fund with Rs.50,000 crore. The EPF support to business and workers for six months was Rs.9250 crore. The MSMEs were redefined, which included criteria of annual turn over besides investment limits, which were revised upward. For micro enterprises investment limit was raised from Rs.25 lakh to one crore for manufacturing and services and turn over up to Rs.5 crore, small enterprises from Rs.1 crore to 5 crore and turn over up to Rs.50 crore and medium enterprises was from Rs. 10 crore to Rs.20 crore and turnover to Rs.100 crore. No global tender for government procurement up tox Rs.200 crore was required, e-market linkage, relief in compliances in tax returns, full guarantee with Rs.30000 crore and partial guarantee fund Rs.45000 crore to Non Banking Financial Companies (NBFC), Housing Finance Companies (HFC) and Micro Financial Institutions (MFI), Rs.90000 crore emergency liquidity fund to distribution company of electricity (DISCOM), Rs.50,000 crore liquidity through TDS/TCS reduction, extension of the date of commitment for contractors, real estate, tax compliance dates, etc., were extended for additional six moths. Thus, package announced for MSME was Rs.5,94,250 crore for total units (i.e., 6,33,88,000) of MSME, i.e., Rs.93,748 per MSME unit. In scaled up micro enterprises with rupees one crore investments limit, assistance would be 0.93 per cent even if small and medium investment limits were ignored. Even if earlier limits of investments for micro enterprises (i.e., Rs.25 lakh for manufacturing) were taken, it was merely 3.75 per cent of investment. With this provision of credit investment support government wanted to bring destroyed MSME back on track!

Out of total number of MSMEs, 51.25 per cent was in rural area and 48.75 percent in urban area. About 11 crore direct and 9 crore indirect and altogether 20 crore people were working. About 99.94 per cent were micro enterprises units, which employed 18 crore people. About 33000 units or 0.52 per cent were small enterprises and 5000, i.e., 01 per cent were medium enterprises. Needless to mention that the MSMEs contributed 32 per cent share to GDP, generated 24 per cent employment, exported 45 per cent, 33 per cent share in manufacturing and 25 per cent in service sector. Moreover, all these measures were supply side mechanism, which were bound to fail in absence of effective demand, which was falling after demonetization and GST and almost crashed after unplanned lockdown causing unprecedented loss of employment and rise of unemployment.

Migrant Workers

Provision for three months employee provident funds and matching contribution of 10 per cent for migrant workers was announced and the same was extended for next three months. The State Disaster and Rescue Force (SDRF) was given to the tune of Rs.11000 crore for providing three meals a day and shelter to migrant workers, urban homeless and poor. Provision of free food grains to every migrant for next two months also was made. Non-card holders were also to get 5kg rice/wheat and one kg gram pulse. Rs 3500 crores were allocated for 8 crores migrant workers. Altogether Rs.14500 crore were allocated for 8 crore migrants, i.e., Rs1812.5 per worker for two months or Rs.30 per day with their dependents! The Finance Minister however announced rationalization of wage differentials also through National Floor Wage (NFW), which would be fixed to remove discrepancy in wage rates after announcements of 12 hours work per day work to be taken from labour.

In view of precarious conditions of migrants on roads, railway tracks and other possible ways to reach home, as recorded and displayed in electronic media, it suggested that these measures for providing food were so scanty and faulty that it could not win their confidence. This also suggested that the measures taken to feed the workers were not enough. Moreover, question was not of food grains only, they needed vegetables, milk, etc., and other necessary supplement for preparation of their food, for example, edible oils, spices, sugar, tea, and many other things from the markets. They also had to pay rents, electricity and water charges of their residence, fees of school children, etc. Hence, they needed money in their pockets immediately. In absence of these measures, simply 5 kg grains and one kg pulse was not enough to keep migrant stay back at the work place, as this alone was not going to restore confidence in migrants to stay back.

An idea of portable Ration Card for one nation one ration was proposed for future implementation for 67 crores beneficiary about 83 per cent were already covered in Public Distribution System (PDS) and remaining would be covered by March 2021. It was expected that the state government would do the needful for migrant workers. For future rental accommodation in affordable rental housing complex under PM Awas Yojana would be made available through Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode and nominal rents would be collected. This might be useful later but instant relief was required to toiling masses. Honourable Supreme Court took serious note of precarious condition of reverse migrants and issued notice to state and central government after 62 days of crises!

In order to provide employment to reverse migrants under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), provision of Rs.61500 crore in budget for 2020-21 was made for the financial year 2020-21, which was less than last years revised budgetary provision of Rs.71001.81 crore. In media briefing by the Finance Minister, Rs.10000 crores were spent and about 14.62 crore persons days employment were generated. About 2.33 crore workers in 1.87 lakh village panchayats were enrolled for job. Additional Rs.40000 crore were allocated to MNREGS, adding both provisions to total Rs.101,500 crore. The wage rate in MNREGS was enhanced from Rs.182 to Rs 202 per day. This was still quite lower than minimum wage. Even in Bihar minimum wage for unskilled labour was Rs.287 per day, Punjab Rs.338 and Kerala Rs.380.

If revised wage rate (Rs.202/per day) would be taken into account, approximately 502.48 crores person days would be generated altogether. Total workforce of the country is about 47 crore, out of which 80 per cent works in unorganized/informal sector. Therefore, about 38 crore workforce was in informal sector. Discount of self employed and better placed workers taken together might be about 8 crore or 21 per cent of informal sector workforce, although this also on the higher side. Thus, about 30 crores worker would need employment through MNREGS. If total amount made available for at Rs.202 per day, 502.48 crore person days employment would be generated for about 30 crores workers, i.e., per worker 16.75 person days work would be available, if implemented properly. Thus, on the one hand, the fund was still not sufficient in view of the size of workers including reverse migration, and on the hand, implementation and reaching money to workers would be a serious challenge because of weak delivery system.

Compensatory Afforestation Management & Planning Authority (CAMPA) would create job for tribal worker with a fund of Rs. 6000 crore. About 50 lakh street vendors would be given initial working capital to the tune of Rs. 10000 and total special credit in this account would be Rs.500 crore. This digitized scheme would be launched in a month. MUDRA Shishu loan up to Rs. 50000 or less would be given and total amount Rs 1500 crore would be allocated for the purpose. Credit linked housing subsidies for 2.5 lakh middle-income family, having income between 6-18 lakh annually with a sum of Rs. 70,000 crores was launched in 2017. This would further be extended to 3.3 lakh family for additional one year.


Government of India reported many support during lockdown. The farm produce was procured at minimum support price (MSP) worth Rs.74300 crores during lock down. But there was no mention of comparable procurement last year in normal situation so that lockdown additional support could be understood, nor the Minister announced any bonus to farmers for their loss due to lockdown. Rs. 18,300 crores were transferred to farmers accounts under PM Kisan Samman Yojana for which Rs. 75000 crore budgetary provisions were made for 6000 annually. Rs.6400 crore were paid to settle claims under PM Fasal Bima Yojana against the budgetary provision of Rs. 15,695 crore. About 11 crore litres milk were purchased at the rate of 560 lakh litres per day against 360 lakh litres. Interest subvention at the rate of 2 per cent was waved out in general and additional 2 per cent for those who had paid the loan timely.

About three crores marginal and small farmers were given loan of Rs 4.22 lakh crore with three months moratorium up to May 2020. About 25 lakh new Kisan Credit Card (KCC) would be issued by March 2021. Additional KCC for 2.5 crore farmers would be issued with 2 lakh crore in which livestock farmers and fishers would get benefits of institutional credit at concessional rate. About 63 lakh loan amounting Rs. 86,600 crores were given. National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) would give loan to the tune of Rs. 29,500 crore through regional commercial bank (RCB) and regional rural banks (RRB) and primary agriculture credit cooperative society (PACCS). Rs 4200 crore were given for Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF). State government entity was given 67000 crore to purchase agriculture produce. Besides Rs.90000 crore, NABARD gave Rs. 30000 crore additional emergency working capital support through 33 State Cooperative Bank, 351 District Cooperative Banks, and 43 Regional Rural Bank (RRB) for post harvest rabi season related work or preparatory assistance for kharif season.

Further steps to strengthen infrastructure Registration of fisheries was extended for next three months. Rs. 1,00,000 crores funds would be made available for farmers producer organization (FPO) PACCS, agriculture entrepreneur, start up, etc., to strengthen farm gate infrastructure. Through cluster based approach (such as, Makhana of Bihar, Mango of UP, Kesar of Jammu and Kashmir, chilly from Andhra Pradesh, bamboo product from North East, etc.) 2 lakh micro food processing enterprises units would be supported for their capacity building with Rs. 10, 000 crore to make them globally competitive.

Logistic capacity to bridge the critical gaps of fisheries value chains besides entitlements for empowering people for their livelihood with Rs. 20000 crore (Rs.11000 crore for fisheries and Rs.9000 crore for its infrastructure) were provided. Rs.13343 crore were made available for 100 per cent vaccination of 53 crores livestock for foot mouth disease (FMD), for which 1.5 crore animals were already vaccinated. Animal husbandry infrastructure development fund was established with Rs. 15000 crore to support private investment in dairy processing value addition and cattle feed infrastructure. Rs 500 crore was allocated for bee keeping initiatives to 2 lakh bee keepers. For the promotion of herbal cultivation in 100000 hectare Rs 4000 crore were allocated. Operation green earlier covered tomato, onion and potato (TOP) for 50 per cent subsidy for transport and storage. This was extended to all green vegetables and fruits. This was started on pilot basis in Gujarat for six months.

Many of these provisions might be desirable with a few exceptions for long run development of agriculture but no way these measures would help farmers who lost their perishable produce, such as, vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, fish, etc., because they could not send their produce to markets due to lockdown. They needed compensation for their losses.

There was announcement of certain reforms in agriculture governance and administration, such as proposed amendment in Essential Commodity Act 1955 for interstate trade and movement, deregulating sales to private agencies away from Agriculture Produce Marketing Centre (APMC) to sale their produce in the market of their choice. It is argued that with this deregulation farmers would be able to improve their income and better off their living condition. Needless to mention that Bihar dismantled this APMC in 2006 but now they do not get even floor price (MSP) despite procurement through PACCS to get MSP for their produce, which they hardly got without discount. Agriculture produce price quality assurance (APPQA) would be introduced. We needed to appreciate that about 85 per cent marginal and smallholdings were hardly left with any marketable surpluses. They were net buyers. They used to sell their produce generally at farm harvest price as distress sell. For them MSP was essential to protect threshold floor price. Therefore, dismantling administered prices on agricultural produce might be detrimental to majority of distressed sellers and net buyers marginal and small farmers. However, this might be beneficial to hoarders and not surplus farmers because even surplus farmers usually did not have storage capacity so that they could wait for higher market price.

In order to contain 2019-CoV the Central Government made a provision of Rs. 15000 crore, out of which Rs. 4113 crore have already been released to states, Rs.3750 crore for essential items, Rs 550 crore for testing lab and kits and Rs. 50 crore to cover insurance so far. Health infrastructure needed to be revamped and public expenditure on this account would be increased suitably. About 12000 self-help groups (SHGs) produced 3 crores masks and 1.2 crores sanitizers. These SHGs were provided revolving funds. About 7200 new SHGs were formed with a fund limit of Rs. 20 lakh.

Aggressive Privatization 

Reforms have acquired negative connotation and synonymous of changing laws in favour of private sectors and selling of public sector to private sector. In continuation of such reforms many new provisions were introduced for encouraging commercial coal mining blocks to change from fixed price to revenue-based auction with upfront payment with no other eligibility condition. Provision of incentives to coal gasification and infrastructure development to the tune of Rs. 50000 crore were made. Privatization of 500 mining blocks through open auction and joint auction of complementary mines, etc., were introduced to enhance competitiveness of mining business. Defence production was further liberalized and FDI limit in ordinance factory was enhanced from 49 per cent to 74 per cent. Moreover, the Ordinance Factory Board was corporatized in the name of improving its autonomy, accountability and efficiency under ‘Make in India’ programmes. Needless to mention that increasing share of FDI will have higher representation in the Board and thereby autonomy of the Board ensured dominance of the FDI in decision-making process.

In order to boost private participants in space activities space was opened for private players to use assets in space research centre. Access to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) facilities and other relevant assets to improve their capacities were allowed. Liberal geo-political data policy for providing remote sensing data technology entrepreneurship has been introduced. Atomic energy and power research reactor would be established in PPP mode and establishing facilities in PPP mode.

Towards reduction in operation and maintenance cost, civil aviation space, which was only 60 per cent of the total air space, provision for expansion was planned to strategic space area. Space management was redefined and now even strategic sector space was opened for private sectors. Six airports would further be privatized and world-class airports would be developed in PPP mode. Power sector was further liberalized and privatized in the name of serving so-called interest of consumer rights, promotion of industry and sustainability.

Strategic public sector units (PSUs) were liberalized and privatized. Private sectors were given opportunities to participate in strategic sectors. However, at least one PSU out of four was allowed to be present in any strategic sector. Remaining units were opened up for private players. Interestingly the cost would be born by public exchequer. Viability gap funding (VGF) to the tune of Rs.81000 crore for funding was enhanced from 20 per cent to 30 per cent of each project by centre and state.

In view of 2019-CoV pandemic normal financial operations rules and clauses were modified and non-payment was not considered default for next one year. This initiative of decriminalization was therefore provide relief for the defaulters and hence no criminal procedures would be initiated against defaulters for next one year.

Central Tax Devolution to states as per budgetary provision for the financial year was Rs. 46,038 crore, out of which Rs.12,390 crore were already released to states. Like Centre, states were also facing revenue crises because of lockdown. Hence, over draft borrowing limit was extended from 3 per cent of GSDP to 5 per cent of GSDP for the financial year 2020-21. However, this extended overdraft of 2 per cent was tied with expediting reforms process in favour of privatization. Needless to say that states were utilized only 14 per cent of over draft limit of even 3 per cent of GSDP and remaining 86 per cent were still remained unutilized. Therefore, if crises were not created through unplanned sudden lockdown, state could have managed with given limits of overdraft and reforms process would have been hampered.

Expected Outcome

In a normal situation this package might have regenerated MSME for positive outcome in terms of employment and output at a given level of demand in the economy to some extent. Even after demonetization on November 8, 2016 when the economy was shattered and retails, informal sectors and MSMEs were almost collapsed, vegetables, fruits, milks, eggs, and other perishable produces of farmers were destroyed, this economic assistance could have regenerated economy at that time to bring the economy back on track to some extent. Unfortunately, it was not grossly ignored to promote big business retails. Needless to recall that in the last financial year 2019-20, Indian economy was already decelerating quarter to quarter which was evident through Central Statistical Organization (CSO) estimates and quarterly press release. In such a situation complete lockdown made the economy more vulnerable than ever before. Continuous lockdown since March 25, 2020 threw serious challenges to bring back the economy on track. On an average per day loss of gross national income as per 2019-20 advance pro rata estimates at 2011-12 prices is Rs. 50000 crores even after discounting of likely 10 per cent of production of goods and services.

This is tough time in the history of Indian economy and society. It is known fact that majority of Indian workforce is engaged in unorganized sectors. The working conditions of majority of them are vulnerable and least secured, as many of them were working on daily/weekly/monthly basis without any social security cover. Complete lockdown created a vacuum and huge loss to employment and income. Informal sector contributes about 45 per cent of the economy. If they are out of job, 45 per cent income of the economy is closed. After demonetization, economy was decelerating and reached to its lowest ebb. Unemployment was 45 years high and rural demands were four decades low in 2019. The lockdown on account of 2019-nCoV continuously since 25th Mach 2020 has further aggravated decelerating Indian economy to its unprecedented lowest ebb, possibly aggravating negative. Overall unemployment rate has staggered up from 6 per cent to 24 per cent.

This pandemic and unplanned lockdown thereof made it clear that the profits from private business ripped by employers refused to support workers in their hard times, who contributed tirelessly enabling employers to accumulate wealth and income from the business. Hence, in absence of staying power they are left with no option but to return home, despite the fact that the government had failed to provide any transport and shown its barbarian and cruel insensitivity at this juncture. Later after public pressure even if government provided transport, which were highly insufficient and could not stop reverse migrants to wait for their turns to return home. This has been historic long march on foot, irrespective of their capacity and strength, be it children, young, old, women with newly born baby, pregnant women. They have been on foot by road, railway track, etc., hardly found even water to sustain what to talk of food. Some of them with their rickshaw, thela, auto rickshaw, pickup van, truck, etc.. Some of them have lost their lives in accidents on roads and railway tracks and compartments, but this also could not stop them to return to their origin.

If it would have been planned properly to send return migrant to their origin before lockdown, this could have taken hardly ten days with 15000 trains that ere running per day and spread of 2019-nCoV could have been restricted to enter in the rural areas. Although, the government has been slowly coming back to restoring transport facilities, now many of reverse migrants are infected and corona career to rural areas. Needless to re-emphasize that even one death is a matter of serious concern, but comparing death rate due to other disease, 2019-nCoV is very insignificant. Effective sanitization could have stopped its outbreak. However, the pandemic effects are going to stay with new normal lifestyle as suggested by many health experts. Therefore, period of lockdown should have been treated as period of preparation to fight against 2019-nCoV and we need to learn to live with 2019-nCoV.

Huge influx of reverse migration to origin on the other hand to rural economy needed reorientation of the economy for the workers at origin plus migrants, as reverse migrants may not go back to destination soon and easily. Moreover, this has changed the chemistry of workforce in rural areas, as reverse migrants are skilled and semi-skilled workers better exposed to the urban facilities returned to village. In such a situation, this gives an opportunity to backward regions, where the reverse migrants can contribute with their skills, provided support system in terms of policies and financial backup are put in place. Decentralized and skill based industrial clusters for production of goods and services should be planned to regenerate backward economy by engaging return migrants, who were making their destination of migration vibrant with their hard labour and skills.

The question arises whether we can find an insight and answer of this situation in the Hind Swaraj, Village Swaraj and Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Whether we can update rural reconstruction agenda in present context of 2019-nCoV for Indian economy. Gandhi-Nehru discourse on about reconstruction of India was a blue print of their visions (Nehru, 1988: 506-11). However, Gandhi was summarily rejected and Nehru prevailed with pro capitalist liberal agenda with socialist overtone and coexistence of public and private sector, where public sector was based on no profit and no loss to facilitate private sectors growth.

Development began with urban centric heavy industry focused five years planning, mixed economy, community development with trickledown hypothesis for the welfare of the people, which did not bear expected fruits. Later it switched over to target approach of poverty eradication with self and wage employment, followed by minimum needs, basic needs approach from welfare to development. After four decades of independence India opted for liberalization privatization and globalization and public sector gradually started withdrawing. However, empowerment, right based, inclusive, participatory, etc., were also adopted as buzz words for development rhetoric along with market led solutions for everything. Self-reliance and swadeshi were traded off with markets and foreign direct investment (FDI). Except lip services to poor (Diwakar, 2006) for equality and justice many more things need to change significantly.

Basic difference between Gandhi and Nehru was in approach to development. Gandhi was convinced that people have to live in villages as cities and palaces cannot accommodate them and therefore creating better living condition and production by masses with a few exception of big industries, is the answer for sustainable development. Unlike Gandhi, Nehru was in favour of developing big cities and industries for mass production, which gradually turned into production centric and labour saving devices based industries. Mass casualization and informality made people more vulnerable than ever before. Thus, question of technology is very important in Gandhian discourse of development. Gandhi was not a dogmatic but ever evolving person.

After 2019-nCoVid MSMEs will be struggling for want of labour. Workforces in informal and private sectors have moved to villages, who may not move to cities soon. Hence, this process again reminds me about the warning that Gandhi sounded us against necessary evils of industrialism. Now, the time has come when the country should think of revisiting Gandhi with renewed rigor and contexts for rebuilding India.

Needless to mention, that the world medical science communities were doing their best to find out scientific solution for this pandemic but still clueless and trial and error with previous research experiences and insights were only the guiding force. When rich countries were badly infected despite being better equipped in terms of hard and soft health infrastructure, it was a serious challenge before the government of developing countries like India to face this pandemic and save their people. This shows limitation of modern Euro-centric development paradigm, against which, Gandhiji warned with note of caution that future of industrialism was dark for West and even darker for India (Gandhi, 1931). The world and India needed serious thoughts to revisit the dominant development paradigm, which failed terribly to address crises created by industrialism.

Thus, above analysis one hand suggests that the Aatmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan Package sounds merely lip services to local rhetoric and failed to address 2019-nCoV and crises arisen from lockdown for reverse migrants, MSMEs, farmers, workers and poor and Indian economy at large. On the other hand government has pursued privatization and selling public sectors aggressively fishing in the troubled water, when the citizens of the country are lockdown. Government needs to learn from the scientific experiences of the world. It is clear that that dominant development paradigm has been compounding complex problems of lives and failed to address accumulated crises before the humanity.

An alternative development discourse is an imperative need of the hour for more humane and nature friendly sustainable development. Historically middle class has been the torchbearer and voice for humane values in the world. In India so-called middle class has proved as comprador and lackies of finance capital by their deep silence despite losing their jobs, income, assets, etc., during demonetization, GST and lockdown. They are yet to become class in themselves and remained mute spectators and blind followers of the present regime. They clap, beat plate, light lamp even if they were taken away from jobs, basic amenities and rights. Therefore, class for themselves is far away for them. Now the democracy is in danger as government ignores the interest of the majority. Hope lies in reverse migrants and workforce in informal and formal sectors to organize themselves to fight against injustices to retrieve their constitutional rights to life as workers and citizen of India. Progressive forces may play a role of catalyst to reconfigure the pathways for expediting democratic struggle. No other options seem left now.


Diwakar, D. M., (2006): Contradictory Proposals with Lip-service for Aam Aadmi, Mainstream, Vol. XLIV No 15, April1, pp.14-19.

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Government of India (2020): COVID-19 INDIA as on 28 May 2020, 08:00 IST,  HYPERLINK accessed on 28.05.2020 at 13.20 IST.

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Professor & Head, Division of Economics & Agriculture Economics, and former Director, A. N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna 800001, Bihar. Email id: dmdiwakar [at]

*Janta Curfew  was a call given by Jaiprakash Narain as people’s non cooperation and people’s movement in 1974 against the Congress government at centre led by Indira Gandhi.

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