anil k gupta
In the post-pandemic period, revival of economy, particularly rural and informal economy is first priority. However, conventional methods and approaches will not take us very far in reorganizing and greening our economy. We should not go back to restore long supply chain making every good travel thousands of miles causing pollution and add to the cost to the consumer. Time for smaller supply chains, local production and consumption loops and decentralized development has come. Gandhi was never more relevant. Here is a list of initiatives that can stimulate healthy consumption, bring consumers and producers together, introduce frugality, reinforce affordability and help both small producer and working-class and middle class consumer.
1. Every city should designate special spaces which on weekend become a marketplace for farmers to sell grains, vegetables, fruits, bread and other agro-processed products etc., directly to the consumers. This will not obviate the need for street vendor but will provide them cheaper, fresher and diverse goods. Mandis will still exist for storage and distribution. They will not have a monopoly of purchase as the government has just announced.
2. A massive agro and food processing programme must be initiated so that every village will have at least one or two processing units in the next six months. Since supply chains are short, one may not need long shelf-life, avoid chemical preservatives and encourage healthy consumption. Instead of using plastic packaging, they should be encouraged to use vending machines where consumers bring their own bottles to fill juice, jelly, herbal shampoo, and other products.
3. Every employee in public and private sector should be encouraged to take an interest-free loan or low-interest loan, say at 4 % to buy annual grain stock, clothes, electrical items, etc., to give a decentralized demand-pull for rural and urban products.
4. A massive employment programme needs to be undertaken in both urban and rural areas to make roof top water harvesting structures with underground or overground tank before the rain comes. It will not only easy drinking water supply but also give a push to swatchchta mission which has suffered in some places because of lack of enough water for sanitation. Urban RWAs should be extended loan if they need for the purpose. Similarly, deepening pf tanks, wells and making water conservation structures must be undertaken before rain on a massive scale.
5. Every company should try to encourage use of craft goods for gifts and awards. The craftsmen and artisans have a huge unsold inventory. The school children should be encouraged to book orders for such goods through e-commerce platforms and appreciated about it.
6. One wall of every school building should be painted by a folk artist with his name and mobile number is given there to give fillip to cultural enterprises. Similarly, every student currently at home due to lockdown condition should be encouraged to document traditional knowledge, folk history, stories and songs, encouraging conservation of nature, traditional nutritious food practices, childcare and women health care practices and any other knowledge for survival. This should be an assignment for which some credit can be given towards knowledge mapping and cultural tapping campaign. All of this can be uploaded on a national, cultural creativity and heritage portal with the provision that users wanting to listen to the stories or performance pay Rs.5-10 to the cultural entrepreneur. The company can sponsor the cost of downloading this knowledge edited and audited by regional experts to make accessibility free and widespread.
7. Online teaching and learning become a norm in future. Children whose parents don’t have smart phone cannot access the content even if available freely. A massive programme of making smartphones with pre-loaded learning material available to every student of government school by using the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) Lying under-UTILISED with TRAI. Online mentoring may be incentivized under individual social responsibility programme for teachers and other professionals. The gap between children who can afford tuition and those who cannot has to be bridged to make the market for merit more democratic. In the first phase, all SC/ST students and other economically poor children must be covered in aspirational districts followed by the rest of the country.
8. In many RIDF projects for rural infrastructure and long-term irrigation projects by NABARD, huge unutilized project budget is lying with the state governments. They should be encouraged to used highly skilled reverse migrants to complete this project by using already sanctioned but unreleased amounts.
9. Having experienced clean air and other aspects of healthy nature, there is no reason why India should go back to a highly polluted and waste oriented industrial model. It may be necessary to reorganize the industrial manufacturing and supply chain management so that pollution is significantly brought down and as also the waste. Some contribution towards this goal will be made by smaller supply chain, when not each product will be made for consumption up to one year and after a thousand miles. The local bakeries, micro-breweries, other food processing units and decentralized manufacturing of cloths using local design, local production, local raw materials will have to be encouraged. Just as power loom industry made large textile mills redundant, in the FOURTH -industrial revolution, we should further decentralize, distribute and develop smaller-scale high-quality production.
We are aware that coronavirus affects the respiratory system most severely. Because of clean air, 80 per cent of the patients could heal themselves because of low pollution and better preventive health. Since the virus is going to stay around, if we bring back the vehicular and other industrial pollution to the old levels, we should be ready for millions of more people dying and needing the support of ventilators which India cannot afford. Because of cleaner air, the morbidity rate will come down, the health insurance companies should join hands with other stakeholders in encouraging cleaner air and circular economy.
We cannot put the entire responsibility of restoring the socio-economic health on the government. At the same time, the suffering of the migrants during massive urban to rural movement has shown the limits of what private initiatives could do. The role of the state and public sector will become even more prominent in the time to come. I am aware that many of the economists and planners believing in growth at any cost will not be happy with the Gandhian approach recommended here. Prominent Gandhians like Elaben have been advocating the need for restricting maximum consumption to within hundred miles for a long time. Time has come to give this utopia a chance.