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Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

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Is Sense Of Disbelief Part Of Our Societal DNA?

Mere posturing and verbal diarrhoea won’t solve for anything. Let us start believing in ourselves, as a nation, about our capabilities and direct it with intent.

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For a nation that has seen centuries of culture, war, -isms and sharp cycles of economic growth versus poverty, we seem to be our own worst enemy. For we doubt our own capabilities and efforts ! We see everything with tinted lens of various hues and woes. India, is world’s 2nd largest populous nation, with around 1/6th of global population, and yet not the similar economic might. Yet when the covid pandemic stuck, we were quick to action covid solutions - be it medical, social, or even economic. For any policy initiative at that scale, not every effort would be successful and might have few outliers that missed the boat. Yet the kudos for having taken the larger population into relief situation must be acknowledged. No Herculean effort of that proportion would be without some mistakes, and some errors of any kind.

Yet for the past two years of covid, we have abused and maligned much of the official efforts taken to address pandemic induced socio economic pressures and livelihood and even basic survival challenges. We doubt everything, we crib and we don’t want data, as we doubt it too. We want emotion-driven sentiment based opinion portrayed as analysis, fuelled by the social media universities and the western rhetoric. We forget that data is God in itself. The right data ! And then using the rightful Analytics to interpret that data into meaningful insights for further action is what can be useful process.

IMF research paper
The recent paper titled ‘Pandemic, Poverty and Inequality: Evidence from India’, authored by economists - Surjit S Bhalla, Arvind Virmani, Karan Bhasin is an example to set our toxic pessimism right. Their research paper published by the IMF observes that “social safety net provided by the expansion of India’s food subsidy program absorbed a major part of the pandemic shock. The program provided insurance to the poor and prevented an increase in the prevalence of extreme poverty in India. This illustrates the robustness of India’s social safety architecture as it withstood one of the world’s biggest exogenous income shocks.”

This paper captures data to showcase India’s efforts for food distribution during the pandemic . The paper infers that India averted the rise in extreme poverty during the pandemic by assuring food security through its Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) program.

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY)
It was launched in March 2020, when the covid lockdown started, with the intent to supply free food grains to the poor and needy. This was over and above the National Food Security Act (NFSA 2013), which offers food security based on rights-based approach, rather than ‘welfare concept’. The Act legally entitles upto 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidised foodgrains under Targeted Public Distribution System (number of beneficiaries is over 80 crores). The PMGKAY provided for 5 kg free foodgrains per person per month, over and above the regular monthly NFSA foodgrains. This scheme, to make access to food grains universal and to provide for those who need this economic benefit, continues till September 2022 (with extensions being given for the initiative).

While the report also shows that ‘extreme poverty’ is less than 1% and the same was maintained during the year 2020. While statistics can show a range, by our population size, that’s a huge number of individuals. India, in the midst of the pandemic, expanded its food subsidy program, rather than increasing case transfers to the needy citizens. According to this IMF report, this decision helped India maintain extreme poverty at 0.8% level; and without food security initiative, the number could have increased from 1.43 to 2.48%.

While the naysayers will have anecdotes, for public policy decisions, one has to go with statistics and analysis. Another successful journey that India has has during the pandemic has been its vaccination drive.

Vaccinating the world
India rose to the challenge of developing vaccines for its population as well as playing the Good Samaritan to its global nation colleagues. It encourages vaccine development and manufacturing by its pharma sector and proactively used technology and mass mobilisation to ensure universal vaccination efforts. India has administered more than 175 crore doses, more than the combined total achieved by the US, Brazil and Japan. More than 95 crore people have been vaccinated against the virus across 327,000 centres, serviced by more than a million health workers. More than 64% of the total population have received two vaccine doses, including in rural and difficult terrains, across the length and breadth of the country.

Cynicism to Confidence
Yet we remain cynical that more could have been done. Agreed that we can always do more. Critique is always welcome. Any process, framework, team output and individual performance can always be bettered. But at what cost, and to what avail is the critical idea.. Mere posturing and verbal diarrhoea won’t solve for anything. Let us start believing in ourselves, as a nation, about our capabilities and direct it with intent.

The author is Corporate Advisor & Independent markets commentator

Twitter : @ssmumbai

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