We have been witnessing shortages of almost everything needed to treat COVID-19 patients: hospital beds, drugs, ventilators and, above all, oxygen. India is once again the focus of global attention, as it was in the mid-1960s when two consecutive years of drought resulted in a severe shortage of food.
GS-III: Indian Economy (Economic Growth and Development, Planning usage and Mobilisation of resources, Inclusive growth and issues therein)
Dimensions of the Article:
- Crisis in the sixties
- Lessons from the sixties
- Health spending and Food security
Crisis in the sixties
- In the mid-1960s two consecutive years of drought resulted in a severe shortage of food in India and we had to turn to the U.S. for assistance. (Help from U.S. did arrive, but grudgingly, as India had not supported the West during the Cold War.)
- The response of the country’s then leadership during the crisis is inspiring Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and their cabinet colleagues had stirred the scientific and bureaucratic communities to bring about a quantum leap in food production.
- The Green Revolution stands out in Indian history as a display of extraordinary accountability by the political leadership, combining resolve, humility and intelligence – as at that time no one imagined that India, a byword for a basket case, would be able to feed itself.
Lessons from the sixties
- Unlike the two years of drought that tipped the country into food shortages in the mid-sixties, the need for ramping up the health infrastructure could have been anticipated in March 2020 when a lockdown was announced at very short notice.
- In fact, the medical case for a lockdown was that it would slow the spread of the disease thus avoiding overwhelming the health system and giving time to strengthen the capacity of the health system.
- The lesson from the Green Revolution is that India has recovered from extremely trying crises, under the most adverse of circumstances, in the past. It is entirely possible to replicate this now, but we need sincere and competent leadership.
- Now India has something that it lacked in the mid-sixties, namely, industrial muscle, hence, it should not be too difficult to ramp up hospital beds, ventilators and oxygen supply within a reasonable time.
- An additional feature today, again in contrast to the mid-sixties, is the considerable foreign exchange reserve. Therefore, some crucial medical inputs can be imported, especially vaccines.
Health spending and Food security
- The inter-State variation in the death rate in India is directly related to the extent of health spending in relation to the state domestic product. It is also related to health infrastructure, but less strongly. This is also true for COVID-19-related deaths across South Asia.
- So, to avert a health crisis in the future the States would have to raise the level of spending on health very substantially as, now- on average, States spend only around 5% of their total expenditure on health.
- Even as we struggle against the health emergency, a shortage that we should do everything to avoid is with respect to food. Food prices shot up from April 2020 suggesting that there may have been a disruption of supply due to the lockdown.
- It would be advisable to anticipate a similar disruption following State-level lockdowns now, and take all possible measures to assure the supply chain – especially by taking into consideration that the kharif harvesting operations are set to commence soon.
-Source: The Hindu