With the country under a lockdown, Naushad Forbes, co-chairman of Forbes Marshall, told Sandeep Singh that it is the only way of preventing and delaying rise in number of cases and, in the meantime, beef up the country’s medical infrastructure. He, however, raised concerns on implementation of the same and said that while better coordination was needed between centre and states, the FM’s income support scheme should have been simpler and broad-based. Excerpts:
Do you think the lockdown was the right thing to do?
My sense is that the lockdown was the right thing to do and it does seem like that was the only way of preventing and delay the rise in number of cases and, in the meantime, prepare the facilities, medical equipments and infrastructure to fight it out.
But don’t you think it has hit the lives of many, especially the poor?
Yes, and I feel that the way it was implemented, we could have avoided some needless pain by better coordination between the centre and the states. The clarity on announcements was missing initially. For example, while grocery was termed as an essential item, there was no clarity on how people can buy it and that the transportation of the same should be facilitated. While it has been sorted now, we saw local policemen interpreting the announcement the way they wanted to. All of it was not required.
Also, the whole issue around migrant workers has been too painful. The lockdown was announced and people rushed to catch trains and buses to leave for their villages and families, but those had already been stopped. But, at the same time there was no clarity on what they could do. Both the states and centre should have planned for them. While Delhi CM made some good announcements for them, it could have come on the first day itself.
How do you see the impact on economy and do you think RBI and the Finance Minister did what was required?
There are no questions about the impact on economy and it is going to be dramatic. I think the measures announced by the Reserve Bank of India were substantial and in the right direction. While the Finance Minister’s announcement on income support was in the right direction, it could have been simpler and wider.
So what do you think could have been done?
We should not have worried too much about giving it to some who did not need the income support. Why not give income support to everyone who needed. Many categories were created to provide benefits and while it aimed at not providing it to some who did not need it, it runs the risk of leaving some needy out of it and that is a bigger worry.
There are many who gave up the LPG subsidy on the PM’s appeal and here also people who do not need it would have given it up on their own. I would want income support for people at the bottom of the pyramid, maybe Rs 5,000 to all who are needy. The government could have looked to support the income of workers at shops, cleaning services and other small establishments with mass employment exits. It could have been done by giving support through the employers in the form of funds every two weeks, and that could have been topped up by their employers.
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