COVID-19 Impact: Halt the acceleration of poverty

It is the right time for the Manipur state authority to take a serious look on the exact impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing lockdown on the health of the state’s economy so far.

As India continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on the country’s economy has been rather ‘severe’ to state the least. Though, there has been no specific state-wise based study commissioned by the government of India, the scenario is not too healthy or bright. For instance, an Assam government-sponsored study to assess and understand the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s economy has predicted that nearly half of the state's population may be pushed into poverty if the current crisis pushes up the state's unemployment rate of eight per cent by more than two folds. A report by theTimes of India on June 2 said that Assam’s finance is likely to face an estimated revenue loss of Rs 12,423 to Rs 1,82,336 crore in the current fiscal.

The grim economic situation has been predicted by the "Report on Economy of Assam" in the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic and it was commissioned by State Innovation and Transformation Aayog (SITA) in collaboration with Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development. The report said "As a consequence of COVID-19, it is estimated that 67 lakh people's livelihood will face vulnerabilities of myriad kind". The report further "estimated that unemployment in the state will further increase up to the range of 16 to 27 per cent from the present level of eight percent. As a result, it is found that the poverty rate may go up to about 50 per cent in the state. Fears of growth of unemployment rate could be fuelled by five worst-hit service sectors - trade and business, transport, construction, tourism and hospitality, said the report.

While the report has already sent distress signals to those closer to the corridors of power, there has been a steadied silence on what exact measures the Assam government would take to off-set the predictions. While the Assam report dampens the hopes of other states, there seems to be more bad news looming over the horizon.

It may be recalled that by the second week of April this year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned that about 400 million people working in the informal economy in India are at risk of falling deeper into poverty due to the coronavirus crisis which is having “catastrophic consequences”. The ILO said the crisis is expected to wipe out 195 million full-time jobs or 6.7 per cent of working hours globally in the second quarter of this year. The ILO report titled "ILO Monitor 2nd edition: COVID-19 and the world of work", describes the coronavirus pandemic as “the worst global crisis since World War II”. “Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies. We have to move fast, decisively, and together. The right, urgent measures, could make the difference between survival and collapse,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder had remarked.

While taking cognizance of such warnings, it is the right time for the Manipur state authority to take a serious look on the exact impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing lockdown on the health of the state’s economy so far. Even if the state cannot commission a credible quantitative study, there should be some arrangement made so as to correctly assess the economic fallout of the pandemic while fighting the war against COVID-19. An economic assessment will at least serve as the signage to citizens’ wellbeing in the future and help halt the acceleration of poverty.

First Published:June 5, 2020, 10:49 p.m.