A plan for the summer
Extending the lockdown was the safest bet given the critical stage that India finds itself in. With a wide federal consensus, the Union government's decision serves in the interest of public health and the nation per se. Naturally, such a lockdown is going to be a drag on our economy. And, thus, arises the requirement to chalk out an effective recovery strategy that is not only dynamic in nature but diverse to include all sectors. The pandemic has brought a total halt to our markets, even virtual ones. While staggered exit might see e-commerce getting back on track, wide acknowledgement of cumulative losses cannot be denied nor can it be ignored. In such grim times, when uncertainty looms large, there lies a desperate need for a national plan to guide both the economy and society through it. Such a national plan requires policy change and reappropriation of finances if need be, notwithstanding the budgetary forecasts. Since there is consensus on the fact that India indeed is passing through unprecedented times, the requirement for unprecedented strategies cannot be dismissed. In fact, the prime minister himself called out for taking extraordinary measures in his speech of lockdown on March 24. So far, the concerted effort of ICMR and administrative execution has steered the nation through the pandemic. The foremost objective has been to flatten the transmission curve. That objective necessitated the Janta Curfew, the first phase of national lockdown and now the second one till May 3. But as experts have emphasised, and even Rahul Gandhi cited on Thursday, lockdown is not the answer. It is merely the buffer time for the executive to chalk up prudent plans and the medical fraternity to gear up for the onslaught of patients. Till now, the High-powered committee of the prime minister, constituting experts from different fields, has provided directions for India to prevent suffering the same fate as the developed nations of the West. Laudable as it may be, the lockdown has indeed prevented the numbers from rising tremendously. But there is a pressing need for a meticulously drafted national plan along the lines of what the National Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides rather than emergency guidelines collated from the advice of experts in the wake of such a disaster. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has been issuing guidelines on a slew of matters such as PPEs, sample Collection, Packaging and Transportation for Novel Coronavirus, Clinical management of severe acute respiratory illness (SARI), etc., specific matters. Apart from that, it has also been the nodal agency to disseminate information on the daily rise and death toll. ICMR has been regularly updating guidelines for testing. RBI revised the reverse repo rate yesterday. Ministry of Home Affairs issued fresh guidelines for a partial resumption of economic activities post-April 20. All these have been occurring sporadically when they can be channelised as part of a national plan to combat the pandemic. As dynamic as the plan has to be, there appears a big need to categorise, collate and present a national strategy that shall behave as emergency lights in these dark times. From bringing the states under the control of the Union vis-à-vis Health — which is a state subject otherwise — to activating penal provisions, different sections of the NDMA Act have been invoked since March 24. The pandemic presents the need to invoke the entire act and bring NDMA to the forefront of planning and management in order to mitigate and recover from the crisis.
With around 15 days of buffer period available before the second phase of the lockdown ends, it is important that India comes up with a national plan that distinctly elicits policies, measures, administrative roles, relief packages for the public as well as businesses, regulations for industries and services, etc. The existing measures can also be categorised under such a plan and would yield a better outcome when seen from a combined administrative lens to overcome the pandemic.