India is paying the price of complacency: Jean Dreze

Migrants stand in a queue outside Hatia railway station to board outstation trains, amid the rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, in Ranchi. PTI Photo

Migrants stand in a queue outside Hatia railway station to board outstation trains, amid the rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, in Ranchi. PTI Photo

New Delhi, May 11 (PTI): India might be heading towards a "serious livelihood crisis" as the situation seems to be worse this time for the working class amid the COVID crisis and local restrictions by states already add up to something close to a nationwide lockdown, according to noted economist Jean Dreze. 

In an interview to PTI, he also said the government's target to make India a USD 5 trillion economy by 2024-25 was never a "feasible target" and was just to pander to the "super-power ambitions" of the Indian elite. 

About the impact of the second wave of COVID on the Indian economy, the eminent economist said the situation today is not very different from what it was around this time last year as far as working people are concerned. 

"The economic consequences of local lockdowns may not be as destructive as those of a national lockdown. But in some respects, things are worse this time for the working class," he opined. Further, the eminent economist said the fear of infection is more widespread and that will make it hard to revive economic activity. "Despite mass vaccination, there is a serious possibility that intermittent crises will continue for a long time, perhaps years.

"Compared with last year, many people have depleted savings and larger debts. Those who borrowed their way through last year's crisis may not be able to do it again this time," he observed. Dreze also pointed out that last year there was a relief package and today relief measures are not even being discussed. 

"On top of all this, local lockdowns may give way to a national lockdown relatively soon. In fact, they already add up to something close to a country-wide lockdown. "In short, we are heading towards a serious livelihood crisis," he said.

On how the government could have missed seeing the second COVID-19 wave coming, Dreze said the Indian government has been in denial all along. "Remember, the government refused to admit about any 'community transmission' of COVID for a long time, even as recorded cases were counted in millions. "When an early analysis of official data exposed the collapse of health services, the government retracted the data," he said. He pointed out that misleading statistics have been routinely invoked to reassure the public that all is well.

"Denying a crisis is the surest way to make it worse. We are now paying the price of this complacency". India has been reporting more than three lakh new COVID cases daily in recent weeks and the death toll due to the infection is also rising. 

Noting that India is also paying the price of a long history of neglect of the health sector, especially public health, Dreze said nothing is more important than health for the quality of life, yet public expenditure on health in India has hovered around a measly 1 per cent of GDP for decades.


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