The pandemic unlocked hidden energy in governments. The lethargy and inertia in governance disappeared without any loss of time as the threat to the common man’s life and livelihood was perilous. It led to prompt decision-making, rapid re-formulation of programs and policies to minimize the devastation and provide relief to the vulnerable population.
The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked unprecedented havoc on mankind and across nations. The contagion is global, and perhaps, requires a coordinated worldwide response. It has blurred the distinction between the developed and under-developed worlds and seems to be pushing for a new socio-economic world order.
The devastation caused by the pandemic is debated and feared by everyone. Trade, business and industry have been impacted in equal measure, though agriculture seems to have shown some resilience to beat the ill-effects of the virus. The producers of food grains have so far found their way through the shutdown. They have succeeded in the harvesting of winter crops and the sowing of summer crops despite the pandemic. Even the governments were at ease in distributing grains in the face of broken food supply chains because of sufficient buffer stocks. But the loss of producers of perishable commodities such as fruits and vegetables, dairy and poultry products could not be prevented owing to disruptions in transportation and demand contraction.
Likewise, loss of jobs, particularly those in unorganized sectors could not be avoided as production processes halted and the markets were closed. Even after unlocking the markets, there are not many buyers due to the declining income and liquidity crunch. The gradual opening of businesses has, however, created hope for many in the MSME sector. The revival of employment in agriculture has somehow shown more promise than the other sectors of the economy.
Without undermining the losses thrust upon society and the economy, it has to be admitted that the pandemic has compelled the people for a change in behavior that is otherwise difficult to achieve. Avoidance of non-essential travel and luxurious spending, maintenance of social distancing, hand hygiene, and the wearing of the mask or any such thing that keeps one’s health assured or good and saves life are liked or at least not abhorred by the common man. Even those who preferred free loitering in groups are now maintaining social distancing.
At times, it was difficult to persuade people to take potable piped water connections, build toilets, avoid open defecation, ensure safe food quality and maintain sanitation in galis (lanes) and mohallas (localities). Today, the demand for such basic services has increased. The communities are compelling for the provisioning of these essentials. They are even ensuring surveillance on Covid-19 cases and travelers around their villages or habitations. Health consciousness has risen to a new high. Even the addicts are seeking treatment to return to normal living, much to the detriment of drug suppliers and peddlers.
The pandemic has propelled the use of digital technology. Fintech, proptech, edutech, and agri-tech are now common in day-to-day conduct of business. Digital education, unknown to over 90 per cent of teachers, is now widely preferred. During the recent harvesting and sowing of crops in Punjab, most farmers were eager to be a part of digital messaging through WhatsApp or other apps. They downloaded e-passes for the sale of their products and used debit/credit cards more often than ever before. The disrupted food supply chains were also kicking, even in containment areas, due to the use of digital technology. The Amazons and Zomatos were able to reach more households despite restrictions.
Another satisfying change is the decline in avoidable lavish spending on social occasions such as marriages and other such celebrations that are identified as one of the major reasons for the rising indebtedness amongst the farmers and landless workers. The restrictions on social extravaganza, tried many times earlier, succeeded, though forcibly during the pandemic. No policy or programme could achieve this and hopefully, it will be maintained in the future.
The pandemic unlocked hidden energy in governments. The lethargy and inertia in governance disappeared without any loss of time as the threat to life and livelihood for the common man was grave and hugely perilous. It led to prompt decision-making; rapid re-formulation of programs and adjustment of public policies to minimize, if not avoid, the devastation and provide immediate relief to the affected vulnerable populations. The quick proclamation of lockdown, rapid upgrade of health infrastructure, swift identification and resolution of unrealized problems such as migrant workers and fiscal stimulus are some of the outcomes of a new way of life and, of course, governance.
The pandemic has surely led to a new normal in our lives. It is different, but not so unusual. It may sometimes appear to be absurd and restrictive, but is not reprehensible or difficult. In many ways, it has taught us discipline, care for one another, use of technology, financial responsibility, and prudence in life. Covid-19 has made us realize values and systems, some of which can be termed as traditional, concerning hygiene, health, education and even society and communities in which we live. ‘Leave your shoes out’; ‘Take off your shoes; ‘Spitting not allowed’ or ‘Wash your hands’, though may appear to be the new normal, are not new or unfamiliar phrases for us. The pandemic has perhaps enforced conduct that requires the use of new techniques and technologies with the widespread adoption of old but otherwise normal systems and practices, which were lost in our pursuits to grow, perhaps unknowingly. The pandemic has driven us to a new world of work and living.
(The author is Chief Principal Secretary to Punjab CM)