Government Must Ensure ‘Right to Life’ for Economic Recovery

SynopsisThe pandemic time warrants the state to take some proactive measures that would enable the masses to properly exercise their ‘Right to Life’. This would enhance their consumption capacity thereby fueling demand and eventually leading to revival. 

Background:
  • The Indian population is undergoing severe stress due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes:
    • Surviving a health emergency on a crippled health infrastructure
    • Battling Job losses and reduction of incomes
    • Countering mass hunger and worsening nutrition.
  • A recent study called ‘hunger watch’ found that almost 25% of households witnessed a 50% decline in income levels. Similarly, 2/3rd of households were eating less than what they did before the lockdown.
  • This all is happening because the government is unable to protect and augment the Right to Life of the masses. 
About Right to life:
  • Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law’.
  • The courts have widened the meaning of life in multiple judgments to allow the individuals to live a dignified life. 
    • For instance, In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court gave a new dimension to Art. 21. 
    • It held that the right to live is not merely a physical right but includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity. It includes bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter over the head, etc.
Acts undermining Right to Life during the Pandemic:
  • The current vaccine policy for the 18-45 age group that demands a fee for vaccinating in private hospitals is against the right to life. The policy discriminates against the poor people who can’t afford to pay a hefty sum. This discriminatory policy was formulated as:
    • The government did not ensure adequate production through compulsory licensing of more producers; 
    • It did not order enough vaccines; 
    • It introduced differential pricing. This forced state governments to compete with each other and with private clinics to buy vaccines.
    • It allowed price overcharging by Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India.
  • The Supreme Court ordered providing free rations and meals without insisting on ID proof to all migrant workers in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. However, it was criticized as:
    • It was restricted to a few states rather than the whole country
    • It did not extend the facility to cover cash payments by the state besides meals and ration
    • Lastly, It made the facility a state prerogative rather than a right.
  • The policymakers abandoned the plight of the poor (especially informal workers). Because, they were denied adequate compensation over the past year of lockdowns, restrictions, and economic distress.
  • The country remains fiscally conservative, resulting in less expenditure on welfare activities and discouraged economic revival. 
    • The Central government spending over April 2020 to February 2021 shows a rise in non-interest expenditure only by 2.1% of GDP.  The focus was on creating infrastructure for economic recovery.

Ineffectiveness of current measures:

  • Focusing on infrastructure creation has a lesser ‘multiplier’ effect than cash transfers to people.
    • Countries that were hit more severely in the first wave than India, managed to show a good recovery. They announced larger fiscal packages directed towards providing income support to people.
    • Cash Transfers helped people spend more on domestically produced goods and revive the economy.
  • Free rations and meals, as mandated by the Supreme Court, have a very little expansionary effect on the economy. As the bulk of the commodities required to come from the existing stocks of food grains. 
Way Forward:
  • The state needs to take multiple measures to augment the ‘Right to Life’ that would also ensure equitable economic recovery. This includes:
    • Centralised procurement of Covid-19 vaccines along with enhancement of production capacity. The state needs to do both things to ensure free immunization to all.
    • Universal access to free foodgrains of 5 kg per month to all the vulnerable people for the next six months.
    • Cash transfers of Rs. 7,000 per household to those without regular formal employment for at least three months.
    • MGNREGA expansion by removing the limit on the number of days or beneficiaries per household. 
    • A parallel scheme like MGNREGA for the educated unemployed in urban areas.
  • These measures would cost around 3.5% of GDP. This might enhance the fiscal deficit that would further widen wealth inequalities and frighten globally mobile finance capital. 
    • However, 1% cost would be set off by the additional taxation generated by Centre and State Governments. For the remaining 2.5% GDP, the government can impose a 1.5% Wealth Tax on the top 1% of households.  

Source: thehindu


 

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