An agenda for India’s New Deal to fix the Covid-infected economy | Opinion
India’s battle with coronavirus is on, with daily spikes in infections threatening to cross the one lakh mark. With easing of lockdown restrictions, things have improved slightly on the economic front but we have a long way to go to even catch up with the February 2020 level that itself was well below par. The adverse impact of the virus on the Indian economy is writ large everywhere with the first quarter of current year GDP indicating the economy contracted by 23.9%. There is hardly any section of the population that has not faced severe contraction of income in their occupation. The spectre of millions of migrant workers, walking on foot with all their belongings, across the length and breadth of our country is still fresh in every Indian’s mind. The march of these millions and millions of uneducated, unskilled and poor migrant labourers to their homes brought out the true picture of poverty and misery prevalent in our country for decades.
The question is what were we doing all these years in the name of governing the country and states. Why did we fail to educate and skill these millions all these years? Why did we fail to provide a decent and affordable health care system to all our people? Why does every citizen have to still run from pillar to post to get justice and has to constantly struggle to save his dignity? Why have we failed to provide to millions even a decent dwelling with basic civic amenities? Where are the jobs for crores of our people who want to work and earn their livelihood.
The time has come to rectify the mistakes of the past and build a strong and prosperous India. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to think afresh and take some major steps to turn the tide. Massive public spending programme will have to be undertaken urgently to not only create employment opportunities for our working population but also create demand across all major industrial sectors like steel , cement, machinery, equipment, manufacturing, building construction etc. Managing resources for the increased public expenditure is not difficult, there are many ways to manage the issue.
It all has to begin with reforming the education and health system first. It is not rocket science that one needs bulky reports by subject matter experts to start any action. At present we have thousands of types of schools churning out thousand types of citizens across our nation. To revamp the existing education system with extremely poor infrastructure, the central government should announce a “National Programme for Rebuilding the School Education” and take up the responsibility to establish nearly 70,000 well equipped Class 1 to 12 schools across the nation that will truly be world class, equipped with all modern facilities to use IT-enabled education to provide the top quality of education to each and every student of our country. These schools will need to be fully equipped for providing vocational education to millions of students simultaneously. This will cost the nation nearly Rs 5 lakh crores over a three-year period. We already have more than adequate teaching posts sanctioned to man these schools so there shall not be any additional burden on account of salaries. These schools, spread across the country, each catering to nearly six to seven villages, will provide equality of opportunity in education to all our population and enable them to fully skill themselves to become economically productive.
Similarly, through a “National Health Rejuvenation Programme”, well-equipped super-specialty hospitals should be established in every district to provide the level of healthcare that our constitution makers had envisioned. This will cost the central government barely Rs3 lakh crore over three years. This will also require complete change in the way the medical education system is being run today so that we not only start producing enough doctors for our requirement but for other countries across the world also.
Our country is known for its pathetic infrastructure facility across all sectors. It is unfortunate that the highways which should not cost more than Rs 15 crore for a kilometre of a six-lane road are being built at the rate of Rs 60 to Rs 70 crore per kilometre. Through a “National Infrastructure Development Programme”, 20 thousand kilometre super highways will have to be built in three years time costing no more than Rs 3 lakh crore. Similarly, all the airports, ports, electricity distribution networks, and other infrastructure facilities can be made world class with an additional expenditure of nearly Rs 4 lakh crore in next four years.
These four initiatives, to begin with, costing nearly Rs 15 lakh crores over four years, should become the “New Deal” of the central government, to not only transform India but will also kickstart the economy with jet speed and bring back mass employment, help pick up demand of all goods and services and bring the country back on the high growth path.
In 1933, US President Franklin D Roosevelt came up with the nation-building programme called the “New Deal” to pull America out of “great depression”. It is an example for the present government to follow.
(VS Pandey is a former IAS officer. He retired as secretary, department of fertilisers in the Government of India)