Opinion Columnists 11 Sep 2020 Manish Tewari | Vuln ...
Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari

Manish Tewari | Vulnerable India faces crucial House session

Published Sep 11, 2020, 5:42 pm IST
Updated Sep 11, 2020, 5:42 pm IST
With over 44 lakh cases and 75,000 deaths India now ranks second in the world, ahead of Brazil and behind the United States
The most draconian lockdown in the world and that too at a four-hour notice completely failed. AFP Photo
 The most draconian lockdown in the world and that too at a four-hour notice completely failed. AFP Photo

Parliament will convene on the 14th of September, five days before the constitutional stipulation of 180 days expires.

Article 85 of the Constitution stipulates that there should not be a gap of more than six months i.e. 180 days between two sessions of Parliament.

 

That the House convenes at an extraordinary moment in the contemporary history of India is a sequitur. The Covid-19 pandemic, the first in over a century of such global magnitude, is testing both the resilience of the Indian people and the Union and state governments to the extreme.

With over 44 lakh cases and 75,000 deaths India now ranks second in the world, ahead of Brazil and behind the United States. However, the curve is not flattening. It is spiking like a fighter aircraft on a 90-degree upward ascent.

With only five crore of 135.26 crore people tested so far India is looking at a very long haul with no vaccine in sight. The fact that the death rate is low is definitely a matter of relief. However, even this may unfortunately prove to be evanescent.

 

The most draconian lockdown in the world and that too at a four-hour notice completely failed. Nothing exemplifies it more than the fact that on March 22 the day the Janata Curfew was enforced India had 381 cases and seven deaths.

Six months later the figures are traumatic. Prime Minister Modi’s unfortunate boast that “today, the entire country is fighting a war against coronavirus... Mahabharata was won in 18 days but the war against coronavirus will take 21 days” sounds like a nasty joke.

The question that the country is asking is why the government has not been able to control the pandemic especially when China where this evil ogre originated has been successful in stamping it out. Worldwide infections today stand at more than 27 million and over 8,90,000 people dead from the disease.

 

However, in China, the virus has been all but banished through a combination of lockdowns and travel restrictions earlier in the year. President Xi Jinping recently swaggered during an awards ceremony for medical professionals that China had passed “an extraordinary and historic test”. “We quickly achieved initial success in the people’s war against the coronavirus,” Xi said.

“We are leading the world in economic recovery and in the fight against Covid-19,” he added. Where the NDA/BJP government seriously erred is in underestimating the portentousness of the peril and doing precious little for 52 days between when the first case was reported in Kerala on January 30 and the announcement of the Janata Curfew on March 22.

 

The most severe casualty of the ill-conceived and poorly executed lockdown has been the Indian economy. In the early days of the lockdown itself it became fairly evident that epidemiologists had become economists and economists had morphed into epidemiologists. While the former flattened the economy the latter miserably failed to flatten the disease curve.

The economic data for the fourth quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal estimated a GDP growth rate of 3.1 per cent capping a seven-quarter economic freefall. The fact that that the fourth quarter of the previous fiscal accounted for only eight days of the lockdown was a harbinger of things to come.
The first quarter economic data of the current fiscal revealed as was expected, that the lockdown had knocked the bottom out of the Indian economy.

 

“GDP has shrunk from Rs 35.35 lakh crore in Q1 of 2019-20 to Rs 26.90 lakh crore in the first quarter of Q1 of 2020-21, showing a contraction of 23.9 per cent as compared to 5.2 per cent growth in Q1 2019-20,” the official statement by the National Statistical Office (NSO) proclaimed.
Attempts by the government to talk up the economy are, at best, pathetic and, at worst, laughable.

What Parliament must examine very closely is whether the assumptions that underpin the 30.42 lakh crores Union Budget passed on the last day of the budget session i.e. the 23rd of March, 2020, are still valid.

 

Another issue that has assumed menacing proportions is the question of GST compensation to the states.

When the GST framework was being negotiated from 2015 to 2017 the NDA/BJP government had promised the states that in return for giving up their sub-sovereign taxing powers states would be compensated to the extent of 14 per cent compounded growth in revenue using 2015-16 as the base year for revenue estimation.

This was to be done calculating the difference between that figure and the actual GST collections in a particular year till 2022.

 

This arrangement was put in place to smoothen the implementation of the GST regime and compensate states for shortfalls in revenue collection as a consequence of such execution.

The central government is now reneging on this sovereign commitment to the states. This constitutes a sledgehammer assault on the federal structure of the nation.
Parliament would naturally be very agitated for Article 1 of the Constitution states that India that is Bharat shall be a Union of states.

However, the most crucial issue that will dominate Parliament is the continuing Chinese aggression and occupation of Indian territory.

 

While initially denying and obfuscating both the fact and extent of Chinese transgression into Indian territory even at the level of the Prime Minister in terms of the statement he made at the all Party meeting, the NDA/BJP government has now been compelled albeit reluctantly to accept that the situation is as if not more serious than 1962.

While Parliament will unanimously express solidarity with our brave soldiers who were martyred in the Galwan Valley and other places there would be very hard and searching questions as to whether India is prepared for combating a four-front national security nightmare.

 

The China-Pakistan axis, Covid-19 and a collapsed economy and a possible upsurge of left wing extremism in the red corridor from Tirupati to Pashupati, given the current antagonistic relationship with Nepal.

Most of all even four months down the line government has not answered a fundamental question — why have the Chinese intruded into our land? Is it anger over some unfulfilled commitments given in Wuhan and Mamallapuram?

India is vulnerable like never before. No amount of cynical headline management using the unfortunate death of a cine actor will deflect from an almost existential crisis that stares us in the face.

 

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