The poor in India don’t deserve the pittance that Modi Government has offered

Union Government’s priorities show the contempt it has for the poor of India. It refuses to loosen the purse strings for relief but shamelessly allocates more money for rebuilding the central vista

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (File Photo--IANS)
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (File Photo--IANS)

NR Mohanty

Not very long ago Indian leaders were preening at overtaking the United Kingdom and at India being the fastest growing economy in the world. But despite the windfall presented by plunging oil prices, the ‘Vishwa Guru’ has been able to scrape one-third of what the UK has offered for COVID relief.

The United States has announced a stimulus package and relief of 2000 billion US Dollars as against India’s 23 billion Dollars. Even Spain and Malaysia, much smaller countries than India, have come up with 220 billion Dollars and 58 billion Dollar stimulus packages respectively.

When Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the Rs 1.7 lakh crore COVID-19 relief package (March 26) for the individuals and institutions worst affected by the pandemic, many experts felt that it was too little too late. Everyone sincerely hoped that it was just one of the many stimulus packages that the union government would come up with to provide succor to the poor and, in the process, attempt to arrest the economic meltdown.

More than a fortnight has passed since the FM’s proclamation, but no further aid package has come yet; what is more distressing is that nothing appears to be on the horizon.

Contrast this situation with that of many other developed as well as developing countries; most of them have come up with two, three, and in some cases four stimulus packages, all within the last fortnight.

Many apologists would argue that our government, in the very first instance, had given such a comprehensive package that there was no need to do a re-think and come forward with a second or third installment of it.

Let us examine this assertion and compare Modi government’s package with that of some of the other relief packages across the world. Officially, our government told us that it was doling out Rs 1.7 lakh crore (less than $ 23 billion dollars) as a relief package for the aid of the vulnerable sections. But, as most economists have pointed out, the government appeared to be too clever by half -- the increased allocations on several heads (such as MNREGA) which were earlier budgeted for the new financial year were shown to be special allotments and made part of the relief package. Nevertheless, the effective package rolled out by our government was far less than 1 per cent of our GDP (0.8 per cent, to be precise).

Do we, as a nation, deserve this pittance? The US Congress unanimously passed a COVID stimulus package amounting to 10 per cent of the country’s DGP. Just think of it, the richest country of the world shelling out an overwhelming 1/10th of its annual GDP to meet the extraordinary challenge. Had the US allocated even 1 per cent of its GDP for the purpose, it would have still worked out to more than 10 times the amount that India has given as a relief package to its citizens. But the US realized the gravity of the COVID crisis and allocated a 2 trillion-dollar package; effectively, it is about 100 times the allocation made by India.

The population of the USA is barely one fourth of India. Still it gives a $ 2000 billion package for its 33 Crore people. We end up giving a measly $ 23 billion for 132 crore people. In absolute terms, an average Indian would get a fraction (0.25 per cent) of what her American counterpart received. What a crying shame for the citizens of the fifth-largest economy of the world!

We overtook United Kingdom to become the fifth largest economy last year. Look at what our nearest competitor has done for its citizens to tide over the COVID crisis?

The United Kingdom also came out with its first stimulus package on March 26, the day India unveiled its plan, but in the last fortnight, the Boris Johnson government has announced three more additional packages, taking the total outreach plan to almost $ 80 billion dollars. That works out to more than three per cent of the country’s GDP. And to put it in perspective, this is almost 3.5 times the allocation made by our government while we take pride in the fact that we are a richer nation than the United Kingdom!

The stimulus package of Spain, a much smaller economy than India (it ranks 13th in terms of the GDP), would make us look as if we are the wretched of the earth. Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish Prime Minister – who is an economist and leader of the Spanish Socialist Party -- announced on March 17 a stimulus package worth $220 billion, which is a whopping 20 per cent of Spain’s GDP. It was not as if the big package came after Spain emerged as one of the worst-hit nations afflicted by the Covid pandemic. The Spanish prime Minister unveiled the 220 billion dollar package when there were just 11,000 corona positive cases. We, in India, are stuck with a 22.6 billion dollar package when our COVID positive cases have hit the 9000 mark. And see the contrast: $220 billion for less than 5 crore Spanish citizens and $23 billion for more than 132 crore Indian citizens!

Well, the UK and Spain are just a few notches below us (one is the sixth-richest nation in the world and the other 13th); what about a country like Malaysia which is a much poorer economy as far as the GDP is concerned ( with the annual GDP of $365 billion it is 33rd in the world GDP ranking)

Aren’t our policy makers ashamed that Malaysia, a country with an economy 1/8th of the size of our own, has announced a Covid relief package to the tune of 17 per cent of its GDP ($58 billion)? Just look at the comparison: India, a far richer country than Malaysia, allocates a mere $23 billion as Covid stimulus package for its 132-Crore people whereas Malaysia reaches out to its 3 crore citizens with a $58 billion package!

Doesn’t it show the contempt that our government has for the people of this country, especially the poor?

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