Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday said that time has come for the world to recognise that India has faced coronavirus disruption "very bravely". Irani was speaking at the Day 1 virtual session of the World Economic Forum's Davos Agenda on Monday. She added: "We are picking up the pieces of the economy that's been shattered across the world but none the less we are hopeful and buoyant that we will set the house in order".
In the "Restoring Economic Growth (Option 1)" session, the textile minister said that despite initial fears about the scale of the pandemic making it difficult to coordinate responses, India is proof that when government and citizens come together, much can be done.
Irani said that one of the greatest support systems that came through for the administration and citizens was the use of technology. According to Irani, technology ensured that government and citizens communicate effectively. She gave an example of how the launch of the vaccine also enabled and supported through frontline workers, through the pharmaceutical industry, and those who dedicated themselves to fighting the pandemic with the help of technology.
The theme of support for the global community was picked up by Irani, who detailed how India has supported the needs of poorer sections of society with measures including cash transfers and clean fuel grants.
The 44-year-old union leader said the government gave cash transfers to over 220 million women across the country for three months and provided free food to over 800 million Indians. "Recognising that people spend on clean fuel that's why the govt also additionally supported over 18 million households with access to clean fuel free of cost for three months. So, I feel that the economic approach with regards to this pandemic was multifold," the minister added.
Irani also said her government also provided a plethora of financial aids and packages. She said the government provided over Rs 20,000 to around eight million borrowers in the SMEs sector alone.
"We also had in our farm economy over five million credit cards given especially to our farming communities so that they had working capital available to them during the time of this distress. Additional capital funding for farmers was made available through other nonbanking financial institutions and companies across our country," she said.
Talking about the technological challenges for unskilled and least educated individuals, Irani said: "As technology expands in our workspace, we have to be diligent to ensure that those who don't have the technical skills are not disposed of opportunities". She also talked about India's apparel industry and how pandemic reoriented India's manufacturing sector by producing PPE kits.
Irani said, "In the month of March, there was a need prescribed for PPE kits for frontline workers. But India never-ever produced even one PPE kit in our 70 years of our independent history and in just 30 days we turned around the entire PPE suits manufacturing processes. We reoriented our apparel industry to manufacture PPE suits and in three months we became the second-largest exporters of PPE kits in the world and in three months we gave rise to an industry over a billion dollars. From 0 companies to we went 1,100 companies. that's because the challenge brought an opportunity that was converted by the industry, by the technology, by scientists and by the government.
Apart from Smriti Irani, the session featured Gideon Rachman, Associate Editor and Chief Foreign Affairs Commentator, The Financial Times; Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister, Government of Singapore; Haruhiko Kuroda, Governor, Bank of Japan, and Andrey L. Kostin, Russian Federation.