The Citizen spoke to former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on the current situation-- economy and the migrant crisis. Excerpts from the conversation:

NEW DELHI: The suffering, agony is only going to in crease under the weight of the spreading virus, and the impact of the dropping economy, predicted former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. It is a horrendous situation, our workers, labour, daily wage earners are going back from the cities full of anger, you can see the anger on the streets, and we have no plan in place, no idea of what we want to do, he added in an interview to The Citizen.

Sinha said that India was probably the only country in the world that was relaxing the lockdown at a time when the Covid-19 cases were registering exponential growth. He said thar when the biggest lockdown (“we always do the biggest, the greatest, the largest”) was imposed by the Prime Minister on March 24 the cases were well within the 100 figure. Now they are crossing 6000 a day and we are opening up as we do not have a plan, and even less coordination, the former Minister and BJP leader said.

Sinha, pointing to what he termed contradictions in government police regarding the pandemic, said that we were taking pride in this biggest lockdown then and look at the cases today. He said all economic activity came to an end as a result, we were very squeamish then and look at it now ---we are opening up with over a lakh cases, and going up as we speak.

The lockdown itself should have taken local conditions into account, instead of drawing contradictions between classes. It clearly does not apply for migrants, for those living in shanties who are on the move to go back home. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar cases are registering a spoke as the labour comes back in, he added. Sinha said that if the government had gone through a basic process of consultation at the onset even an under secretary would have pointed out the impact it would have on India’s poor, and asked the government to ready plans to deal with what has become a crisis now.

The third contradiction, Sinha said amounted to now locking the stable door after the horse have bolted. The workers have fled the big cities, or are in the process of fleeing, and now you announce that the industries will open. Where will these industries-- micro, small, medium, big---get the raw material from, and where will they get the workers, and how and where will they sell their produce?

Sinha said that it was impossible to predict the coming weeks and months will take now, the virus play out will be so difficult to gauge but it is certain one, that the cases will go up exponentially; and two, the economy is in deep decline and hunger, joblessness, will only grow and spark off the anger that we are already seeing on the roads.

He said that it is strange how the central government did not anticipate this crisis, or perhaps it just did not care. He said it was imperative for it to have consulted the state governments at that time of the first lockdown instead of rushing to make a grand announcement; and should have formulated plans for the labour, the vendors, the daily wage earners ---for their food, transport and money for immediate needs. Sinha said that even former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghu Ram Rajan has said that just rations of dry food is not sufficient, the migrant labour and workers need cash as they have other immediate needs as well.

Sinha deemed it unfortunate that instead of consultations, now the effort of the central government was to somehow put the states in the dock for the mismanagement. And cover up what he described as the complete lack of anticipation, sensitivity, compassion on the part of the government of India. He said that the states were cash strapped, and it is for the central government to come out in such a crisis, but it seems to have gone back indoors after four lockdowns instead of reaching out to the states even now.

The former MInister with decades of experience in the political field said that it was clear that the migrants who were in the cities waited, hoping the lockdown would be lifted, and in the process finished their meagre savings, or entered into deep debts. They finally realised that they could not manage, that there was no end in sight, and for everyone the goal was to somehow reach home, return to their villages. Sinha said that the village system still looked after its own, unlike the cities that had become hostile places for the labour. He said the government should have anticipated all this, but we let the first 21 days pass without even seeming to assess the situation and moved into the second lockdown. Now we are in a fourth lockdown, playing havoc with the livelihood and sheer existence of our workers and our poor.

Sinha was clear that the actual government funds was just about one per cent of the GDP and not the 10 % claimed by the Prime Minister after he had announced his Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package. Going into the breakdown, Sinha said it was clear that the government share was nowhere in the margin of what was projected saying that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had basically confirmed this apprehension through what she said, and did not say, in her five part serial press conference.

Sinha said that even today the effort of some state governments and NGOs in helping the migrants was visible, but the central government seemed to have disappeared from site. He said it was like rubbing salt into the wounds for the Minister to speak of space exploration, atomic energy and recycled administrative reforms at a time when her government has not only offered a flawed policy but played a fraud on the people. Grand announcements are made, he said, without even a thought of how policy will be implemented on the ground

Sinha said he foresee a grim future, and could not even now predict the situation at the end of the year with any degree of certainty. He said the only certainty was it will get far far worse, with the economy spiralling down and the people facing the brunt of not just the virus but of hunger, destitution that comes with joblessness. And anger, that he predicted, we would see far more off with law and order fast becoming the casualty.