Covid-19: ‘Dharma Sankat’ for govt over lockdown, Gurcharan Das says

NEW DELHI: Eminent panelists at the Bennett University’s global online conference over Covid-19 held on Thursday unanimously said a partial lockdown is the need of the hour to save the Indian economy and its people, given the data currently available on the number of cases, mortality rate and severe implications of an extended lockdown.
India has imposed the most stringent lockdown in the world in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To throw some light on the conundrum currently being faced by the government about exiting the lockdown, author and commentator, Gurcharan Das, referred to the Mahabharata.

“If you save 100 lives through the disease but lose 200 lives through unemployment then you should choose where you lose less lives. But when I thought about this personally, what would I choose whether I should let my own son die of Covid-19, then my moral intuition was clear. I would choose to save a present life rather than worry about future lives” said Das.
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“Vidura in Mahabharata who was a royal counsellor said he would have made the opposite decision. He said I would sacrifice a person to save a village. It’s a “Dharma Sankat”. Both ways you lose,” he added.
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“During this lockdown, a poor migrant from Bihar said if corona does not kill me, hunger will,” said Das, adding, “Who should live and who should die is the question facing the Modi government.”
Multiple lockdowns will bring a brutal recession, a quarter of a billion wage earners will die of hunger and the the pandemic could turn India back by decades, warned Das.
“When I thought about this dilemma, I too wondered whether it’s worth saving lives if the result was a world teeming with lives not worth living,” said Das. “Is the cure worse than the disease is the dilemma.”
“The government should go for a partial and selective lockdown. We have tested so few people that we don’t know how bad the situation really is,” said Das. “But with rigorous testing we will have data in two weeks. But with the present data, we should take a cautious gamble and move towards a partial lockdown.”
“I would continue the ban in all of India for the elderly people and not allow more than five people to assemble anywhere,” he added.
“About one sixth of the economy, which is a digital economy, is also functioning. But 50-55% of the economy is shuttered. This gives me an assessment that about 6% of the GDP loss will take place in a month’s time,” said former finance secretary, Subhash Chandra Garg.
“This virus is not going to go away. Any assumption that lockdown will eliminate the virus is not correct. We can reduce the impact of the virus and isolate people who are affected and keep them away from unaffected people. Some nations have shown that this can be done,” he added.
Arvind Virmani, former chief economic advisor to the Government of India proposed the cautious opening up of a few industries. “If the lockdown extends till the end of May, it could cost the country around 9% of GDP,” he said.
“Urban workers stay in cramped living spaces where they are far more likely to spread infections and it could be worse than them going to work,” he said. “Comprehensive testing of such a huge population is impossible in India. International travel should be banned till June and there should be some restrictions on domestic travel.”

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