The Covid-19 crisis which has gripped the world practically from the beginning of the year 2020 has severely disrupted the lives of millions, nay, billions across the world. Besides causing serious illness and deaths on a large scale in countries including the United States of America, China, Italy and Spain, the disease has also caused severe disruption in our own country, with the arrival of disease and the subsequent lockdown of the entire country from roughly the middle of March and all of April for a start. The fear of the disease has been caused by it’s apparent lethality and ease of spread, and also by the lack of any real treatment or the availability of a vaccine. This has constituted virtually the most serious disruption of life in the country in living memory and in peacetime, with the events of the 2016 demonitization being probably a second.
Besides the lockdown itself, which has caused tremendous hardship to persons living in their own hometowns, even more so was caused to those workers who come from the hinterland, and who have no fixed address in cities. They have also run out of money very quickly as they have not been able to work, and have not been able to pay their rent, or for their own upkeep. They have been thrown to the mercy of the cruelty of the lockdown and there are stories of those who have had to walk or cycle hundreds of kilometres, some dropping dead. Others complain of miserable conditions in their own dwellings. The human cost of the lockdown is yet to be measured.
Many of the issues above raise the question about what exactly India is and how does it work? Many speak of the fissures and fault-lines of the society. Others talk about how even the rich have been affected in a way never seen before. These are all questions that will haunt the country for a long time to come. While these questions cannot be resolved overnight, an immediate question that would arise is what would happen if such a contingency arose again? Does anyone have any solution to the financial burden due to such natural calamities and their aftermath? What kind of creative solutions can society find for such issues?
In this regard, this commentator would like to propose that a National Disaster Insurance Scheme be created to prepare for such a scheme. India is a fairly mature capitalist country with a growing economy with a vast creation of wealth and accumulation. In good years, people from across the sectors of the economy should have to pay a premium amount to create such a scheme. It would be a way in which society will gear up to face calamities. In the present case, the first thing the Government has done has been to freeze the Dearness Allowance of all it’s employees and in autonomous institutions supported by the Government for a period of 18 months. This is a draconian measure. Furthermore, there is much talk of how factories that have been locked down may not open, workers may be retrenched in large numbers, and all round chaos in the economy has been predicted. A sensible policy would be to prepare for such contingencies and have a ready fund to rescue the victims of such a catastrophe. Far from being a crack-pot scheme, it would be a sensible way in which society could deploy it’s resources arising from good years to tide over a bad year. Even if this scheme were not to be viable, there should be a discussion of what could be the needs of society and how security can be assured for it’s members.