Revisiting policies and programmes is no weakness

The social and economic coordinates of pre-Covid times are no longer valid. So legislations designed with those inputs cannot be expected to achieve the desired objectives

Published: 05th July 2021 01:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th July 2021 12:31 AM   |  A+A-

Policies, programmes

(Express Illustrations by Soumyadip Sinha)

The recent initiative taken by the prime minister to meet political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir was widely acclaimed. The meeting may not have had any spectacular outcome; yet it was refreshing for its implicit promise of dialogue and flexibility. However, the same spirit of accommodation is missing in other areas of national life ravaged by the pandemic. The tremors of the economic cataclysm are felt across the sectors and have left a trail of visible and invisible destruction, requiring unprecedented determination to rebuild. It is an ominous period in our history where the single-point attention of the nation needs to be on rehabilitation, revival and reassurance. That is where today’s national atmosphere is sadly found wanting. India, which has the most Covid-19 victims in the world today, cannot afford the luxury of old habits.

Political dialogue, public policies and welfare administration have to be necessarily retuned to alleviate the real agony of the times. In a milieu continually assailed by uncertainties, governance as usual will not only be barren but also counterproductive. Effective governance is neither static nor inflexible; it calls for continuous introspection and adaptation. The credit-linked stimulus packages will be of limited impact unless accompanied by a new willingness on the part of the banks to lend to the needy and powerless. The Covid-impacted nation cannot afford anything that drains political and administrative energy. It is a time that does not justify an edgy and uneasy Centre-states relationship, policy obduracy, intimidating and selective law enforcement, and hyper-sensitivity to criticism. The social and economic coordinates of pre-Covid times are no longer valid. The key assumptions and roadmaps of the period prior to January 2020 have lost their relevance. Therefore the policies and legislations designed with those inputs cannot be expected to achieve the desired objectives. 
The empty schools and colleges and stuttering online classes have altered the context in which the ambitious National Education Policy (NEP) was formulated with its bold suggestions for overhauling the educational structure of the country. Pursuing the NEP as if nothing has changed can have only tragic consequences. Similarly, the three agricultural laws that have pushed the farmers to an ongoing agitation cannot achieve the economic spin-offs that its protagonists passionately claim. The premises on which the farm laws were drafted are no longer valid. They cannot have the expected beneficial impact in the changed rural socio-economic life, characterised by mounting indebtedness and deprivation. 

The privatisation agenda of the Union government is another area where the show cannot and should not go on as planned. The current approach to privatisation, aimed at generating revenue to bring down fiscal deficits, is guided by short-term interests at the expense of long-term strategic value. It betrays a sense of disinterest in even profit-making government-owned enterprises in core sectors. It may be useful to realise that this obsessive commitment to the neo-liberal ideology of privatisation stands discredited with the present experience of vaccination and Covid management. The whole nation is at the mercy of two private sector vaccine manufacturers and the government policy itself is under heavy strain owing to supply constraints. If only there had been vaccine production in the public sector (along with private firms), the situation would have been totally different with the government in a position of commanding strength. That would have scripted an entirely different people-friendly narrative of vaccination. Pertinently, states that can claim better Covid management and lesser mortality are those with a sturdy public health system and not those where private hospitals control public health. The experience of dealing with the second wave of Covid makes it self-evident that a robust public health infrastructure cannot be substituted with any borrowed models of private healthcare. If even this national disaster does not spur us to revise the policy of overzealous dependence on the private sector, what else would?

The recent spurt in cases registered under the UAPA and sedition laws, many of which could not stand judicial scrutiny, has also vitiated the national mood. The impression gaining ground that central agencies are being used for targeted investigation makes people more helpless, fearful and resentful. At a time when the beleaguered citizens expect solace and support from governments, this atmosphere of intimidation and intolerance vitiates the nation’s psyche, debilitating its resilience and rejuvenation. 
It is alarming that in one year, 27% of Indian households have slipped into the ‘no income’ group and 24% into the ‘income-reduced-by-half’ group. The unemployment rate has touched an all-time-high and prices of all essential commodities have spiralled. It is imperative that governments, policymakers and law enforcers acknowledge the defining change in national mood and recognise the ordinary citizens’ desperate engagement with livelihood issues. A refusal to admit this recent metamorphosis of society and proceeding with earlier policies and decisions with stubbornness will be an expensive luxury. Expending valuable time and resources on misplaced priorities divorced from the new reality is as much a moral issue as an economic one. 

This unprecedented crisis should force Central and state governments to boldly and unreservedly review, revise and (if necessary) repeal the policies, programmes, practices and contentious legislations of another clime. Revisiting and recalibrating governments’ initiatives to harmonise with the stark reality of pandemic-ravaged society can never be a sign of weakness but a hallmark of wisdom. An African proverb says: “You cannot turn the wind; so turn the sail.” A refusal to do so could be calamitous. 

K Jayakumar
Former Kerala chief secretary and ex-VC, Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam Varsity


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