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India has been ranked 139 out of 149 countries in the World Happiness Index report released by United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The report ranks countries based on how happy the citizens of the country perceive themselves to be. The latest report from the UN body has also considered the effects of COVID 19 on the population and how the respective governments dealt with it. In 2019, India ranked 140.
A human being is a social animal and requires people to have balanced mental, physical, emotional and financial health. The sudden lockdown imposed on March 25, 2020, due to increasing cases of COVID-19, left families separated, and the massive exodus of migrant workers from various states back to their hometowns emphasized the agony people were facing.
One of the significant causes of deteriorating mental health is losing a loved one to COVID and seeing death so close and upfront. Even though millions of activists of psychological well-being are on social media, it is not yet given importance as much as it deserves. There are people with a stable family and financial background who fall into the trap of depression and anxiety. So, it is obvious to predict its impact on people who do not have jobs and face extensive salary cuts.
Over the last one and a half years, after the pandemic ravaged the economy of India, there has been a steady increase in the prices of essential commodities. At the same time, the regular Indian consumer is facing job loss, has depleted savings and experiencing pay cuts. The cost of basic goods has sky-rocketed, especially in the second wave of the pandemic.
Money is one of the leading causes of concern. For many, it is a source and a core area of regular stress among ordinary people. While inflation seems to be on a steady rise, it is the common man who has to bear the brunt of it. An upward graph in the cost of goods results in decreasing purchasing power of the consumer. Research shows that rising prices of goods and services tend to impact people as the ratio of crimes increases. There is increased drug abuse and declining standards of living due to dissatisfaction with the fulfilment of basic needs of life.
On July 2, 2019, the cost of one litre of petrol was ₹ 76.91 in Mumbai. On Thursday, July 1, the cost of one litre of petrol in Mumbai was ₹ 104.96. In 2019, the price of LPG gas cylinder was around ₹ 637. Cut to two years later and the price for the same is ₹ 834.50. Fuel, gas, edible oil, pulses, and vegetables are among the most basic needs of any household in the country. Residents in Delhi claimed to be under immense pressure to run the month with the rising costs and falling salaries. "Either the government should intervene and keep a check on the prices of essential commodities, or they should see that working people are being paid enough to fend for themselves and their families", said Jaswant Singh, a resident of Punjab. He added, "there are certain families where there is only one bread-earner. An average person has to provide for his children's education, run the house for the month and save up some money for the rainy day since times are uncertain. All this is difficult to manage with reduced salaries".
Various schemes have been launched by the Centre and several state governments for employment generation and upliftment of the poor. However, not many of them have been successful. For instance, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has not benefitted as many people as it had envisioned. The scheme had many factors that contributed to it not becoming a game-changer. As reported by Down to Earth, meagre wages and insufficient budget allocation were some of the leading causes. During pandemic times, delayed payments and non-payment of unemployment allowance further added to the woes of those who had kept their hopes high.
A number of people have voiced concerns over the rising prices of essential commodities. Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh accused the government of ignorance and attacked it for allegedly hoarding foodgrains. Unnecessary hoarding of food grains causes inflation in the country's economy. He said that the economy is struggling to get back on track with little fiscal stimulus, but the government is "on a lookout to extract as much from the common man and leave them helpless."
India, undoubtedly, has a large population (it is second only to China). However, we cannot use this as an answer to all the problems that our country faces. Instead of pulling money out of people's hands, giving relief to them in the form of cash is a better way out. Countries like Germany, the USA and Canada have done exactly that. Germany had one of the most robust responses to the pandemic, in which the government offered to give 5000 Euros to individuals and 15,000 Euros to small businesses.
Nobel Laureate Abhijit Bannerjee, in a series of interactions with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, suggested giving people money directly would be the way forward to revive the economy at a better pace. He added, "It is more reviving demand. Giving money in the hands of everybody can buy from stores, or they buy consumer goods. So, MSME produces a bunch of stuff that people will want. They have not been buying it. If they had money, or even if you promised them money, it does not have to be that the money has to there right now".
The government is responsible for whatever happens in the country. Therefore, the excuse of once a century pandemic cannot substantiate its inability to foster a sense of financial security during these uncertain times. Including COVID assistance in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) category was a major step in increasing the relief measures for the kin of those who perished due to COVID. However, the government should not be so blatantly ignorant by saying that although there is "no issue with fiscal affordability, ex-gratia income cannot be paid to the families of those who have died in COVID, keeping in mind the 'rational, judicious and optimal usage of the resources of the nation".
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