Scriptures and epics have for long been the guiding principles for Indians in all matters of concern. As it turns out, the Indian epic of Mahabharata showed the way to the policymakers. In the Economic Survey 2021, released on Friday, the document stated how policymakers made the difficult decision of choosing between lives and a spiralling economy.
"Faced with unprecedented uncertainty at the onset of the pandemic, India focused on saving lives and livelihoods by its willingness to take short-term pain for long-term gain. India's response stemmed from the humane principle advocated eloquently in the Mahabharata that 'Saving a life that is in jeopardy is the origin of dharma'. Therefore, India recognised that while GDP growth will recover from the temporary shock caused by the pandemic, human lives that are lost cannot be brought back," stated the Economic Survey 2021.
India's response to the coronavirus pandemic drew from epidemiological and economic research, especially on the Spanish Flu that highlighted that an early, intense lockdown provided a win-win strategy to save lives as well as preserve livelihoods in the medium to long term. "The strategy was also motivated by the Nobel-Prize winning research in Hansen & Sargent (2001) that recommends a policy focused on minimising losses in a worst case scenario when uncertainty is very high. Faced with an unprecedented pandemic and the resultant uncertainty, loss of scores of human lives captured thus the worst-case scenario," it said.
The survey also stated that the response was tailored for India's vulnerabilities. Firstly, it said that since the pace of the spread depended on network effects, a huge population means a higher pace of spread. Secondly, as the virus spreads from human contact, high population density would also mean greater spread. Thirdly, even though India's average age is low, its senior population vastly outnumbers other countries'. Finally, India's healthcare is already overburdened. More coronavirus would mean severely exacerbated facilities.
The survey called the coronavirus pandemic a 'once-in-a-century global crisis' and said that this unique recession has pushed 90 per cent of countries to expect a per capita GDP contraction.