Reshaping India in a post COVID world

India is gearing up for a world post the COVID-19 pandemic wherein we would require constant collaboration with fellow nations to strengthen each other.
 
In the 72 years of its existence, the World Health Organization (WHO) has witnessed epidemics of gigantic proportions that impacted thousands and led to the death of hundreds of people. These epidemics though grave, were often contained in the region of its origin. On 30th January 2020, however, when the Director-general of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, issued a set of temporary recommendations and declared the COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concerns. I believe even he must not have thought of the  magnitude of the impact this contagion would have on the globe.

Today more than three months on, the Coronavirus pandemic has hit every single country directly and indirectly. More than 3.8 million people have been infected due to the virus, which has killed more than 270,000 people. In India too, the situation has reached serious magnitude with almost 56,000 people getting infected and 1800 deaths all across the country.
 
These numbers would have been significantly higher, has the Government not taken drastic measures and announced a nationwide lockdown. In a country of 1.3 billion people, the impact could have been catastrophic. Our frontline workers have played a pivotal role in the fight against this pandemic, and their dedication and service towards the nation have helped us contain the spread. They are working closely with the Government machinery to ensure that precious human life is saved and there is minimal disruption to the way of living.
 
As the lockdown is eased gradually, things would not be the same as before. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way businesses are conducted, the way people live their lives, the way children learn, across the world.
 
Most global leaders have come to accept that as there is no specific deadline for the virus to dissipate, and it is crucial that society and businesses adjust to the new normal.
 
We in India also resonate with this thought process and are ensuring that this transition to a new and uncertain world is as seamless as possible. Most State Governments in India, even in red zones where the number of cases continues to grow, believe that the lockdown cannot be a permanent solution to the situation. We will have to balance our preventive health measures with the need to continue economic activity which came to a standstill when the lockdown was announced.
 
India, as in other global markets, is now starring as a losing trend of joblessness across sectors. According to the data released by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), there has been a 27 per cent surge in the unemployment data for the week ended 3rd May. It was just around 6.7 per cent in the second week of March. The country is expected to lose almost around Rs 32,000 crore for every day of its lockdown.
 
In the wake of these issues, the state governments believe that if the economy is not opened  up, the economic situation would only worsen further. It is a common consensus that the virus would be around for some time before it would be wiped out, so it is wise to open up the industries and resume economic activities in a calibrated manner. The demographic dividend that India is proud of can only be yielded if our people are gainfully employed.
 
One of the arguments of developed nations is that the negative impact of the virus could have been stopped and the loss of lives be minimized, only if China, where the virus originated, had notified about it rather than going for a cover-up. Nations would have then got into a damage control mode, and the spread would have been contained. The loss to human life and the economy would have been minimal.
 
While we are where we are, it is time to take the lesson and move forward. We must focus on adopting corrective measures going forward. The world now needs  to develop a system which is more effective and transparent to prevent and tackle the spread of any future pandemic like situation. This would require us to drive a positive outlook and enhance global cooperation. A world post this pandemic must be ready to work on global policies for making affordable healthcare more accessible to handle any future situations. This crisis has brought us to the realization that the countries across the world need to switch priorities from military funding to healthcare.
 
For the good of the human race, nations need to continually collaborate for the exchange of information, experiences, and research to overcome each other’s shortcomings.
 
The pandemic has provided India with an opportunity to improve our ties with several countries. Malaysia and Iran have been critical of various internal policies in the recent past, but at a time like this, we have put aside our differences and are focussing on helping these countries in their fight against COVID-19.
 
The global outbreak created challenges for several countries with their citizens stranded in other nations. India has risen to the situation and not only evacuated our own citizens stuck in other countries but also helped people of other countries reach their homes. People from countries such as South Africa, Bangladesh, Maldives and Myanmar who were stranded on

other countries, were evacuated along with Indian citizens and sent safely back to their respective nations.
 
Our country is also taking the lead in the pharmaceutical space. In the spirit of international cooperation, we have started the export of several vital drugs, including hydroxychloroquine needed in the fight against the Coronavirus to several countries. The pandemic presents an opportunity for the country’s pharmaceutical sector to increase its footprint across the world.
 
We have assured our help to several nations like Mauritius and Seychelles by sending in vital life-saving drugs, to face the challenge of the pandemic. In the long run, we hope that our diplomacy in the Indian Ocean Region could define our position in the changed world order post-COVID-19.
The novel COVID-19 contagion has changed the way the world looks at consumerism. The lockdown has also got us thinking of the marginalized and the underprivileged sections of the society. While we are growing more compassionate, internally, we are  all learning to be frugal in our ways and reducing our waste. It has also got us thinking of economic growth from a different perspective altogether.

It is incorrect to compare ourselves to the US and other developed markets because of the sheer income gap. Their income is spent mostly on discretionary consumption, whereas for India, more than 75% of our $2000 per capita is spent on necessities. This spending would recover sharply in the short-term and help get our economy back on track.
 
There is one change though which we have also come to realize. Over time, our definition of essentials has changed. While roti, kapda aur makaan are still at the forefront, many white goods and telecom-technology products now fall in the category of essentials. The intense weather makes our fans and lights crucial for daily use. As more people start to work from home, they need the internet, computers and phones.
 
This trend has an underlying demand, which is enough to revive our economy. The 15% of our agri-driven economy that supports 49% employment is not impacted and continues to grow. Around 60% of the services economy is not primarily broken beyond repair and can be recovered over time. While some segments will need more time and effort, we are confident of the capabilities and zeal of our people to help the sector improve fast. We have been significantly hurt in the manufacturing segment, which needs our support. The Government is working closely with the industry to help them regain their glory. The MSME which has been significantly hit is being provided support. We are making all efforts to revive this segment which is touted as the growth engine of the nation.

The Coronavirus pandemic would play a key role in indirectly influencing regional competitive dynamics. The current situation has already had an impact on the defence budgets, procurements, alignments, engagements, and priorities of several nations.
 
Under these circumstances, India has the potential to become a manufacturing hub in the post COVID order. In the year 2014, the central Government initiated one of its most ambitious programs – the Make in India initiative to generate around 100 million jobs by the  year 2022 and also make India into a manufacturing hub.
 
Through this initiative, India was pitched as an alternative manufacturing destination with a focus on 25 sectors like automobiles, chemicals, leather, and biotechnology. The Coronavirus situation has given us an opportunity to do just that.
 
Due to its delay in reporting the cases, there is a robust anti-business sentiment against the Asian giant building across various countries that can unwittingly work in India’s favour.
 
Plus there are several advantages that India has - a stable government and investor-friendly policies. Countries prefer to invest in countries with strong growth potential, and our large consumer market is a crucial attraction for global players. India offers a ready market to sell its finished goods to the robust middle class of the country.
 
Additionally, several other initiatives like Skill India, Digital India, etc. that are ensuring a ready stream of an industry-ready workforce which can be engaged in productive work from day one of employment. The massive workforce available to work across industries supports the management prowess of the country. We also believe that India’s ability to support bulk manufacturing, assembly and processing will tilt the balance in its favour.
 
The Indian Government needs to aggressively use the opportunity to attract companies for offering tailor-made solutions for each of the investor companies. India has started making headway in various sectors to support the setting up of manufacturing operations of global players. The focus will have to now shift towards moving up the value chain and enhance our export earnings. As we improve our position in global value chains, India will become a vital hub of the global manufacturing landscape.

To ensure that we attract the global investors looking for alternate markets, India will have to choose between red tape and red carpet. The Government has been making all efforts to improve the ease of doing business and do away with red-tapism, but there is still more ground to cover. We understand that the laws governing companies will have to be made more stable, to help position India as a preferred investment destination. We want to build a framework, where the Government is a partner to the business and not an adversary.
 
The Government is working towards enhancing the country’s infrastructure capacities. We are still focused on reducing the cost of logistics that can improve our competitiveness in the global arena. This also aligns well with the immediate need for job creation, as the nation initiates work on various infrastructure and logistics projects across the country.
 
In the post COVID scenario, the way business is conducted will change drastically. There is going to be significant disruption, and Indian businesses and society need to be ready for that.
 
To begin with, companies are going to work more smartly. In this lockdown, a lot of companies realized the effective use of digital technology to conduct business in a more  efficient way. Video chats and webinars would replace expensive travel and client visits. There are several companies that have decided to let their employees work from home even after the  lockdown is lifted as it means saving of costs for conveyance and office rentals. However, this wi ll lead to an emerging need to have tech-driven home workspaces.

Companies would have to invest more in digital platforms and cybersecurity. The massive telecom and digital infrastructure will have to be enhanced further, allowing seamless services to the mushrooming workspaces at homes. The automation and transformation would soon make way to the tier 2 and 3 cities and eventually reach the hinterland of India. We foresee the overall transformation and growth of the country.

We expect to see various innovations in the coming time. The rising fear of infection among people would lead to various low-cost automations becoming a reality. From voice-activated elevators to contactless car doors, we expect many ‘no touch’ technological interventions. Such trends would lead to the need for redesigning existing solutions and skilling people to use them as well. Moreover, the manufacturing of these transformed products would lead to higher job opportunities in the country.
 
Many public services will also undergo a transformation. Railways would look at higher digitization in the coming months. All transportation segments will have to adjust to social distancing norms and higher sanitization requirements.
 
India would also have to undertake a regular review of the health of a business to identify any hidden threats. Many small companies or businesses would perish, but new opportunities would arise. Business continuity will have to be made more pervasive. The sustainability of a business in the face of disruption would need more substantial planning and solutions that can allow continuity. Most employers would also not like to leverage on their costs and would ensure a sizable portion of liquidity to meet unforeseen contingencies.
 
Individual hierarchy models across corporate organisations would be replaced by network- based models, so that work doesn’t stop in case of emergencies. Importance would also  be given for interconnectivity. Given the rising fear of health concerns, companies will have to be more health-conscious of its workforce.
 
This is also the time for India to reassess what has worked for the country and what  has not. We have set ambitious plans and targets, and while our dedication in achieving them is strong, it is a must to evaluate what part of our strategy, policy-making and execution needs to be revisited.
 
Though the Government is planning to open the economy, companies too need to be ready to conduct business in an effective manner with the provision of people working from home and not being available, in case anyone falls ill, to ensure continuity in business.
 
The Government has already issued various guidelines for businesses, factories,  and commercial establishments to maintain proper environment hygiene through regular sanitization of frequently touched surfaces like workstations, counters, and doorknobs. Businesses will also need to provide preventive health kits and face masks to all employees while ensuring there are enough hand sanitizers.
Companies would have to be open to provide flexible work timings to reduce crowding in the office by the workforce at the same time. Any worker who develops flu-like symptoms would have to be immediately sent to the medical facility for treatment.
 
There are several pre-colonial laws that need to be changed to tackle the pandemic. The methods used by the Government, which includes self-isolation, social distancing, and quarantine infringe on the autonomy of the individual; however, these steps are essential to confront the situation. There is an urgent need to build a public health system using the law rather than just the limited purpose of any act.
 
The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 was designed by the Government to put the government machinery in place, in the event of an outbreak of any epidemic to prevent the spread of any disease. The Government can also forcefully prevent, detain, or admit any person for treatment under this act.
Most state governments have used the act to restrict the movement of the citizens to contain the spread of the virus. This act can also be used to restrain free speech from preventing the publishing of any information without the prior permission of the Government to prevent the spread of fake news.
 
Such powers are invoked with an intention to prevent the spread of the disease, and we are cognizant that the use of excessive force to cite the same can have disastrous effects on the citizens. The Government is making all efforts to enhance community participation in the fight against COVID-19.
 
At the same time, we realize that it is necessary to have a balancing effect and regular checks on the use of power to protect the rights of the citizens.
 
The Indian mindset of chalta hai needs to change as it prevents our country from achieving great heights. The compromise in quality at any level should give way to stickler adherence to a higher quality of goods and services. Following rules instead of flouting them and accountability in every sphere of life should be the new norms of leading lives henceforth.

India in this technology-driven, new global world order should be a righteous, determined and virtuous nation that can shoulder the responsibility of tomorrow’s world both at the domestic and international level. We are prepared for the fight ahead and geared up for the transformation that the coming times will see.