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Predatory Airlines Rob Desperate Passengers Amidst Covid-19 Scare: Extent of Damage to Manipur Economy Will Depend on Duration of Crisis

[avatar user=”Amar” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]AMAR YUMNAM[/avatar]

Rudolf Virchow wrote in his Report on the Typhus Epidemic in Upper Silesia in 1848 thus: “epidemics resemble great warning signs on which the true statesman is able to read that the evolution of his nation has been disturbed to a point which even a careless policy is no longer allowed to overlook…Don’t crowd disease point everywhere to deficiencies of society?…Abnormal conditions always produce abnormal situations. War, plague and famine condition each other, and we don’t know any period in world history where they did not appear in more or less large measure either simultaneously or following each other.” And we all land, as T S Eliot asserts in his The Waste Land, into the whirlpool:

“Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell

And the profit and loss.

A current under sea

Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell

He passed the stages of his age and youth

Entering the whirlpool.”

During our childhood, we did hear from our elders stories of whirlpool of epidemics relating to the cholera epidemic which had happened long-long before we were born. In this, we were also made to understand the transformation of the prayers from the macro welfare to the micro selfish ones as the spread of the cholera got ever closer. As we progressed in our education, we had also heard and read about the Bengal Famine. But what we are facing today in COVID19 is unique for our own lifetime of six decades, and the scale also is both demographically deeper and spatially widespread. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times; in the middle of the wondering the potential for Artificial Intelligence, we are thrown all of a sudden into the fearful uncertainty of face to face with death.

These are times which would hugely impact on the regional, national and global economic scenario inter alia. Before we come to the consideration of the expected and potential economic implications, one sickening burden Manipur has already borne. The spread of COVID19 has adversely affected the air travel in a huge away with flights getting cancelled and airports wearing emptiness in the rest of the world. In this the Tulihal Airport at Imphal has given an absolutely opposite scenario of heavy rush for tickets for travellers; the normal schedules remain intact with full occupation of seats in all the flights. This differential picture is understandable with air connectivity serving as the sole means to meet demands of urgency and reliability. The sickening part arises out of this dependence of the people of Manipur on air travel. While the whole world is emphasising CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), the various aviation companies have sucked blood out of the people of Manipur through excessive pricing of tickets during this tragic period of COVID 19. During the last ten days alone, the transfer of income from the people of Manipur to the aviation corporate houses must have been to the tune of at least around Rupees Three Crores through this excessive pricing of tickets – a digitised version of primitive accumulation. This transfer is besides the normal charges for the travel services.

Now let us look at the potential economic implications of COVID19 for Manipur. Here we must realise that we are talking of a highly infectious transmissible disease and for which there is no vaccine yet. Examining the impacts of an ongoing epidemic disease can at best yield purely transitory results for the impacts themselves would undergo transformations with the level of aggressiveness of the disease.  For the world as a whole there are already massive disturbances to the production sector, global supply chains and forces of global interconnectedness. In fact, towards the end of February 2020, Economists around the world produced possible global scenarios arising out of (a) labour supply shocks due to mortality and morbidity of patients and morbidity of caregiving family members; (b) return to investment shocks caused by governance risk, financial risk and health policy effectiveness; (d) risks of rise of cost of production due to many factors like transportation disturbances; (e) fall in consumption demand; and (f) consequential shifts in government expenditure. But during the first three weeks of March 2020, the pandemic has gained so much more power to adversely affect the global economy such that all these calculations now need revision upward.

Whatever the case, examining the cost of COVID19 needs to be done in the context of the socio-economic scenario where the epidemic occurs. This is particularly more so in the case of Manipur for the interconnectedness with the outside world can be snapped as easily as possible; this is the situation which was taken full advantage by the various airlines during the last three weeks or so. We can immediately think of two possible scenarios:

The situation in Manipur remains as it is today, and the number of positive cases do not go beyond the present case of One; and

The situation does not remain the same, and the number of positive cases gets near Ten or so.

Under these scenarios, we can examine (i) the overall cost to the economy; and (ii) the sectors where the impacts would be felt most. Further we can also examine whether the incidence of the impact is felt more or less equally by all socio-economic groups or are there distributional implications.

Under the First Scenario, if the lockdown which started on 21 March 2020 continues till the countrywide lockdown up to 14 April 2020, the economic impact would be around an overall loss of Rupees 1,800 crores. As the State’s economy is basically Malthusian in the sense of being based on fixed factors of production like land and natural resources, the potential short run contraction in consumption would be recovered after the end of the lockdown period. This would be, due to the very nature of production base, efforts would be multiplied to produce whatever the local products are after the end of the lockdown period and there would be consequential likelihood of the wages to rise. Thus while there could be minor distributional implications of the poor getting poorer in very short periods, these could be managed and corrected sooner than later.

However, if the second scenario turns out to be the outcome and the epidemic stays deeper and wider in Manipur, the consequences would be very disastrous for the land and her people. The potential implications of the epidemic being present for longer periods in Manipur and claiming around Ten or so lives would be:

There would be absolute social chaos and the governance risk would multiply. This is because of the lack of robustness of the trust-level of the people on the capability of the healthcare system of Manipur to rise to the occasion to the required scale in such circumstances.

The rise in governance risk would, in the absence of systemic interventions, lead to serious distributional implications. By about three months, we would start witnessing the property market moving in favour of the rich and with huge pains to the poor. This would also have second-round burdens on governance and highly challenging socio-economic implications.

III.         In addition to the serious distributional implications, the size of the economy of the State could get shrunk to only half of its potential in about four months.

Besides these adverse implications and assuming that we do not get consumed by the resultant social chaos due to thinking governance interventions, the positive long run implications could be:

There could be a halt, if not reversal, to the rising rural-urban migration.

A new social consciousness for sustainable consumption may arise.

  1. A robust and shared feeling of connectedness may replace the present atmosphere of fractionalisation.

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