Counting pandemic losses

The Supreme Court’s decision to not allow waiver of complete interest and extension of the six-month Covid-related loan moratorium came with a telling observation that courts are not advisers to the executive on matters of economic policy. What the apex court did permit was the waiver of interest-on-interest or compound interest for all borrowers, while making it clear that it cannot interfere with the government’s decision to fix priorities for relief during the pandemic. As the country marks a year since the first lockdown was announced — resulting in untold suffering — several questions continue to lurk. Has enough been done to help those affected the most? Did the series of sector-specific packages announced by the Centre have the desired effect? Did the decision-makers fall way short in extending assistance, and continue to?

Comparisons are odious and misplaced all the more in the Indian context, but it would be erroneous to not take note of Joe Biden’s ‘rescue plan’. The massive $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package dishes out $1,400 payments to most Americans. More than money, what it sends out is a message of optimism and hope — in short supply as small and medium businesses in our country struggle to stay afloat and there is no end to job losses, even though the stock exchange may have us feel otherwise.

The loan moratorium was conceptualised as a crisis-response measure, so the banks have a valid argument to charge interest on the deferred EMIs. But that the crisis is far from over cannot be lost on the government. For many, the worst may be over, but what has followed is equally challenging, especially in the absence of any direct support. The silence and inaction on the visible markers of an upward spiral for home budgets, the exponentially high fuel and LPG prices, inspires little trust in policy intervention to bail out the struggling millions. A year since the announcement to lock down the country is as good a time as any for serious stock-taking.

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