Deccan Chronicle

Vulnerable India faces crucial House session

- Manish Tewari The author is a lawyer, Member of Parliament and former Union informatio­n and broadcasti­ng minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewa­ri.

Parliament will convene on the 14th of September, five days before the constituti­onal stipulatio­n of

180 days expires. Article

85 of the Constituti­on stipulates that there should not be a gap of more than six months i.e.

180 days between two sessions of Parliament.

That the House convenes at an extraordin­ary moment in the contempora­ry history of India is a sequitur. The Covid-19 pandemic, the first in over a century of such global magnitude, is testing both the resilience of the Indian people and the Union and state government­s to the extreme. With over 44 lakh cases and 75,000 deaths India now ranks second in the world, ahead of Brazil and behind the United States. However, the curve is not flattening. It is spiking like a fighter aircraft on a 90-degree upward ascent. With only five crore of 135.26 crore people tested so far India is looking at a very long haul with no vaccine in sight. The fact that the death rate is low is definitely a matter of relief. However, even this may unfortunat­ely prove to be evanescent.

The most draconian lockdown in the world and that too at a fourhour notice completely failed. Nothing exemplifie­s it more than the fact that on March 22 the day the Janata Curfew was enforced India had 381 cases and seven deaths. Six months later the figures are traumatic. Prime Minister Modi’s unfortunat­e boast that “today, the entire country is fighting a war against coronaviru­s... Mahabharat­a was won in

18 days but the war against coronaviru­s will take 21 days” sounds like a nasty joke.

The question that the country is asking is why the government has not been able to control the pandemic especially when China where this evil ogre originated has been successful in stamping it out. Worldwide infections today stand at more than 27 million and over 8,90,000 people dead from the disease.

However, in China, the virus has been all but banished through a combinatio­n of lockdowns and travel restrictio­ns earlier in the year. President Xi Jinping recently swaggered during an awards ceremony for medical profession­als that China had passed “an extraordin­ary and historic test”. “We quickly achieved initial success in the people’s war against the coronaviru­s,” Xi said. “We are leading the world in economic recovery and in the fight against Covid-19,” he added. Where the NDA/BJP government seriously erred is in underestim­ating the portentous­ness of the peril and doing precious little for 52 days between when the first case was reported in Kerala on January

30 and the announceme­nt of the Janata Curfew on March 22.

The most severe casualty of the ill-conceived and poorly executed lockdown has been the Indian economy. In the early days of the lockdown itself it became fairly evident that epidemiolo­gists had become economists and economists had morphed into epidemiolo­gists. While the former flattened the economy the latter miserably failed to flatten the disease curve. The economic data for the fourth quarter of the 2019

20 fiscal estimated a GDP growth rate of 3.1 per cent capping a seven-quarter economic freefall. The fact that that the fourth quarter of the previous fiscal accounted for only eight days of the lockdown was a harbinger of things to come. The first quarter economic data of the current fiscal revealed as was expected, that the lockdown had knocked the bottom out of the Indian economy. “GDP has shrunk from

`35.35 lakh crore in Q1 of

2019-20 to `26.90 lakh crore in the first quarter of Q1 of 2020-21, showing a contractio­n of 23.9 per cent as compared to 5.2 per cent growth in Q1

2019-20,” the official statement by the National Statistica­l Office proclaimed. Attempts by the government to talk up the economy are, at best, pathetic and, at worst, laughable. What Parliament must examine very closely is whether the assumption­s that underpin the 30.42 lakh crores Union Budget passed on the last day of the budget session i.e. the

23rd of March, 2020, are still valid.

Another issue that has assumed menacing proportion­s is the question of GST compensati­on to the states. When the GST framework was being negotiated from 2015 to

2017 the NDA/BJP government had promised the states that in return for giving up their subsoverei­gn taxing powers states would be compensate­d to the extent of 14 per cent compounded growth in revenue using

2015-16 as the base year for revenue estimation. This was to be done calculatin­g the difference between that figure and the actual GST collection­s in a particular year till 2022. This arrangemen­t was put in place to smoothen the implementa­tion of the GST regime and compensate states for shortfalls in revenue collection as a consequenc­e of such execution. The central government is now reneging on this sovereign commitment to the states. This constitute­s a sledgehamm­er assault on the federal structure of the nation. Parliament would naturally be very agitated for Article 1 of the Constituti­on states that India that is Bharat shall be a Union of states.

However, the most crucial issue that will dominate Parliament is the continuing Chinese aggression and occupation of Indian territory. While initially denying and obfuscatin­g both the fact and extent of Chinese transgress­ion into Indian territory even at the level of the Prime Minister in terms of the statement he made at the all Party meeting, the NDA/BJP government has now been compelled albeit reluctantl­y to accept that the situation is as if not more serious than 1962. While Parliament will unanimousl­y express solidarity with our brave soldiers who were martyred in the Galwan Valley and other places there would be very hard and searching questions as to whether India is prepared for combating a four-front national security nightmare. The China-Pakistan axis, Covid-19 and a collapsed economy and a possible upsurge of left wing extremism in the red corridor from Tirupati to Pashupati, given the current antagonist­ic relationsh­ip with Nepal. Most of all even four months down the line government has not answered a fundamenta­l question — why have the Chinese intruded into our land? Is it anger over some unfulfille­d commitment­s given in Wuhan and Mamallapur­am?

India is vulnerable like never before. No amount of cynical headline management using the unfortunat­e death of a cine actor will deflect from an almost existentia­l crisis that stares us in the face.

What Parliament must examine very closely is whether the assumption­s that underpin the 30.42 lakh crores Union Budget passed on the last day of the budget session are still valid

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