Lives or Livelihoods: Brace for Impact

 By Chirag Sandhu

The curse of mankind (which shows a  cyclic trend by occurring every 20th year in a 100 years) for the past 400 years, we have seen a calamity of the highest magnitude, the causes of which perhaps unknown, the result, however, absolutely devastating. Time and again our young species have been reminded that there is no authority as or more supreme than Nature itself. It is the Rule of Law that governs citizens, but ’the Law of Nature rules mankind’.

We are faced with unique times, the passing of the baton from one generation to another. While we have all heard stories of the great wars of the 20th century, the countless stories of fear in the face of fatality, a struggle for survival hanging onto a thread of hope, we have also heard of the changing world order that soon led to the division of much of the world into the opposing Capitalist and Socialist factions of economic development. India however remained non-aligned and using its own strategy of trial and error, created a benchmark for development and became a shining example for erstwhile colonies of the commonwealth. It brought hope and a chance of success for every nation striving for democracy, striving for economic prosperity.

By 2019, India had overtaken several developed countries such as the United Kingdom and France and it emerged as the world’s fifth largest economy. But 2020 is an entirely different story.

The Coronavirus (Covid -19) pandemic has led to over more than 2,50,000 death globally and the fate of another 3.34 million souls hangs in the balance. There has been hope, 1.05 million people have returned home, safe and sound but the flattening of the curve seems unpredictable due to the overwhelmingly contagious nature of the virus.

Economically, most nations across the globe have imposed partial or complete lockdowns, leaving many industries like the Airline, Travel and Tourism industry stranded in deep debts and enormous losses. While some production units, like those of essential services have seen steady growth, they too are struggling to adapt to the changing nature of the Global market. Furthermore, with lesser availability of labour and the limiting nature of social distancing which has crippled many farmers, weavers and small scale manufacturers who cannot claim a moratorium for their debts ,since a large portion of them have bonds in the Informal Sector which is not as forgiving.

In circumstances as unique as these, many economists are debating the simple question of Life or Livelihood, both of which have been included as fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. One side suggests the importance of livelihood as a necessary means of maintaining life, especially since several workers performing odd jobs in construction activities, malls and barbershops have been left with no means to provide them with even a two square meal for their families.

India, having filed for Fiscal Relief, is evidently in a state of pecuniary crisis and several factors will determine its economic fate. The sinking of the oil prices might be beneficial for India in the short run, as a large chunk of our oil industry is fuelled by imported Petroleum, its effect on off-shore sites and major oil companies such as ONGC and Reliance Petroleum Limited,can cause major losses to the National Income.

Changes in consumer behavior will also have multitude of effects, with consumers tilting towards maintaining life rather than livelihood, especially after the Government directive to pay all wages, even in sectors such as Domestic Help and Casual Labour. Yet, sustaining these optimistic measures is a difficult task in itself as 66% of the paid labour is either working from home or abstaining fully, causing a distinct fall in revenues and increasing costs of production and supply. These factors will force companies into pushing government policies and ultimately reduce employability scope due to unavoidable layoffs and wage cuts.

Changes in ideology and the fear of travelling or mobilising, even when it comes to the simplest act of grocery shoppingwould effect the demand and supply curve of the cocerned industry. The E-commerce industry has also been significantly curtailed and even dominant, monopolistic, giants such as Amazon are due to face losses, with consumers becoming fearful of shipped goods due to the 24 hour surface life of the Virus, making it easily transmissible.

While the above mentioned hurdles are just a ‘needle in a haystack ‘ of economic failures that are yet to come, it is essential that we as a society unite and come to consensus over the underlying, unfortunate choice between Life and Livelihood. A swift decision is essential, but a blind approval without adequate consideration and reasonableness can obliterate the purpose of economic growth, a concept which will soon transition into being rephrased as Economic Survival. While all is not lost, the primary solution and focus must be to contain the spread of Coronavirus, successful treatment of COVID-19 patients and possibly the immediate development of a Vaccine, India must prepare itself or in other words, brace for economic impact and make the hard choice between saving Lives or Livelihoods.