Meeting The Covid Economic Emergency Head On

The twin mantra for the Government’s stimulus in response to the unprecedented economic impact of COVID19 has been to first ensure that human cost of the crisis is minimized specially for those at the bottom of the pyramid; and two, to convert this crisis into an opportunity by implementing bold structural reforms that will go beyond repairing the damage to the production capacities and enhance the overall supply response capabilities of the economy. The stimulus ( package) announced by the honorable finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, over the past five days is a carefully crafted a well-balanced yet bold package, that will, in the coming days, achieve both objectives.

It is widely recognized that the present crisis is far worse than both the Asian financial crisis of the late nineties as well as the Global financial crisis of 2008-09 as it has seriously impacted both the supply and demand side of the economy. The government’s response has been to effectively address both these aspects. On the supply side, the government response has been four-fold. First, to ensure that food security and farmers’ incomes were not impaired. The government declared agriculture and all related activities as essential services immediately upon announcing the lockdown . This permitted the successful harvesting and efficient procurement of the critical Rabi crop. It also implied pumping in Rs78,000 crore as new purchasing power in the hands of the farmers.

The second prong was to effectively prevent the pressing cash/liquidity crunch from converting to insolvencies and bankruptcies. Immediate moratorium was announced on their debt servicing obligations to commercial banks. This was greatly reinforced for the MSMEs for whom an additional credit line of Rs. 3 trillion without any fresh collateral was extended. MSMEs could also avail of new equity from the Rs 50,000 crore fund of funds and take advantage of the subsidiary debt facility announced by the FM. These measures provided succor to a arge number of businesses, especially those in the services sectors like hospitality, entertainment, retail etc. The Rs 90,000 crore credit package made available to State Discoms, should also be included in this set as it will prevent bankruptcies of State electricity utilities and the power producers, which would have had disastrous results.

The third set of measures were directed to significantly improve the eco-system for private producers both in agriculture and manufacturing. Long pending reforms to give farmers the much needed freedom to choose their clients and for traders and exporters of agro-products to maintain necessary stocks, have now been announced. Defense production and exports will get a new fillip with the liberalization measures. Greater space will be given to private businesses in sectors in which hitherto public sector enterprises had either a complete monopoly or a pre-dominant presence. Finally, in a measure that does not have a large fiscal footprint, but touches the lives and livelihoods of more than 50 lakh families, street vendors all over the country have been given a credit of Rs 10,000 each for re-stocking and use as working capital. Thus, ‘the package’ has guaranteed the survival of existing production capacities andlaid strong grounds for enhancing larger private sector participation by both domestic and foreign players.

Several measures have been announced to lift the sagging demand in the economy. Before detailing them it is important to point out that aggregate demand is made up of consumption, investment and demand for intermediate goods as well. This has to be taken note of by those who consider only the cash in hand of consumers as the sole means for reversing the declining demand in the economy. Therefore, additional credit lines provided to the MSMEs or to the vendors or farmers (Rs two trillion over and above the limits already provided under the KCC) will contribute to the strengthening of aggregate demand.

A significant number of measures were announced to hike consumption demand directly as well. Among these are: Rs 1.73 lakh crore for (announced in the first package) for improving the incomes and welfare of the most vulnerable, including the 20 crore female Jan Dhan account holders who will receive monies directly into their bank accounts; Rs 50,000 additional incomes in the hands of those whose TDS and TCS were reduced by 25%;

Rs 40, 000 crore additional allocation for MNREGA which will provide jobs and succor to those returning to their villages from metros and cities; Rs 30,000 crore for construction workers; Rs 17, 800 crore transferred to 12 crore farmers; and Rs 13,000 crore transferred to States to finance the costs of running quarantine homes and shelters for migrant workers. These measures, which will directly benefit different categories of individuals, will surely raise the flagging demand, the necessary condition for triggering a fast-paced recovery in economic activity.

As the Honorable Finance Minister emphatically pointed out on Sunday, the size of the stimulus at Rs 20.97 trillion, totaled more than the promise made by the Prime Minister in his address on 12 May. This is more than 10% of the GDP and compares very favorably with packages announced by other emerging economies. Combined with the significant number of bold structural reform measures, which hold the potential to make Indian firms attain global scales and competitiveness and give the much-needed freedoms, flexibility and financial strength to our beleaguered farmers, ‘the package’ promises to promote India’s economic recovery in the post COVID 19 period.

Author is Vice Chairman NITI Aayog. Views are personal.

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