India's Covid Crisis Decimates Country's Middle Class

Indian economy shrank 7.3% in fiscal year 1920-21, its worst performance since independence in 1947. Nearly 230 million middle class Indians have slipped below the poverty line, constituting a 15 to 20% increase in poverty since Covid-19 struck last year, according to Pew Research. Middle class consumption has been a key driver of economic growth in India. Erosion of the middle class will likely have a significant long-term impact on the country's economy. “India, at the end of the day, is a consumption story,” says Tanvee Gupta Jain, UBS chief India economist, according to Financial Times. “If you never recovered from the 2020 wave and then you go into the 2021 wave, then it’s a concern.”  

India's Economic Performance Since Independence. Source: Bloomberg

Mainstream Indian media have long been afraid to cover the incompetence and failures of Prime Minister Modi's government. But this is finally changing with the COVID pandemic hitting India's newsrooms. Dozens of Indian reporters and their family members have died after being infected with coronavirus. 

Middle Class Decline in India, China. Source: Pew Research

The disastrous turn in the situation on the ground couple with the change in media coverage have brought focus on Modi government's failed policies in handling the deepening health crisis and its devastating impact. The images of large numbers of people gasping for breath and dying on the streets for lack of oxygen have shocked the world. The covid crisis has exposed the hollowness of India's super-power delusions fed by the country's western boosters who see it as a counterweight to China. An example of such western propaganda is a recent novel by retired US Admiral Janes Stavirides. 

Increase in Debt-to-GDP Ratio During Pandemic. Source: Business Sta...

Prime Minister Modi's government has taken on significant debt to cope with the crisis of covid pandemic. As a result, India's debt-to-gp has increased 17% to 89.3%, the third highest among emerging economies. By contrast, Pakistan's debt-to-gdp has risen by a mere 1.6% to 87.2% during the pandemic, according to figures released by the IMF.  

Modi's Hindutva Rate of Growth in India

The authors of "2034: A Novel of the Next World War" portray Indians as heroes whose statesmen-ship de-escalates World War III, negotiates peace and helps India emerge as the new global superpower. Patel, the Indian uncle character of the Indian-American deputy national security advisor Sandeep Chowdhury tells him, "America’s hubris has finally gotten the better of its greatness." The authors imagine the United Nations headquarters moves from New York to Mumbai after the war. Had this book been written after watching thousands of Indian victims of COVID19 gasping for breath and dying daily on the streets of New Delhi, I think Ackerman and Stavridis would have conceived  and developed a completely different plot line for their novel.  

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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 17, 2021 at 1:24pm

#India’s devastating #coronavirus surge turned children into orphans. The full severity of India’s recent wave of infections — now receding at last — is hard to grasp. #COVID #Modi #BJP #economy

BHOPAL, India — The nights are the hardest.

Five-year-old twins Ruhi and Mahi go to sleep late. In the dark, they often wake up crying or seized with fear.

In the morning, their great-uncle dresses them and combs their hair. They ask him the same question over and over: Where are our parents?

Your mom and dad are with the doctors, he tells the girls. They’re at the hospital.

The truth is too difficult for him to speak. Ruhi and Mahi’s parents are both dead, swept away in a matter of days during the calamity of India’s second wave of coronavirus cases.

The girls’ father, Mohan, known for his helpful nature and devotion to his daughters, died on April 30, his lungs straining on a ventilator at a government-run hospital in this central Indian city.

Three days later their mother, Rita, died at home in a rooftop room with pale yellow walls, crushed by sickness and grief. Her daughters were asleep nearby.

The full severity of India’s recent wave of infections — now receding at last — is hard to grasp. In April and May, the virus overwhelmed hospitals and killed nearly 170,000 Indians, according to official statistics. Experts believe the true figure is far higher.

Perhaps no phenomenon encapsulates the nation’s losses like the number of children orphaned in the surge. What happened to Mohan and Rita’s daughters is not unique: Nearly 600 children in India have lost both parents to covid-19, said Smriti Irani, the government minister for women and child development, in a tweet last month.

Even that figure may understate the tragedy. Across India, more than 3,600 children have been orphaned as a result of covid and other causes since the start of the pandemic, according to an affidavit filed this month by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

Although India’s situation is extreme, the country is far from alone. The pandemic has killed parents of young children around the world. Researchers in the United States used Census Bureau data to estimate that about 43,000 American children had lost a parent to covid since March of last year. There were also families in the United States where both parents died.

In India, the ferocity of the second wave left hospitals too full to treat the sick. Many died because they could not get enough oxygen or other treatment, leaving their families with the unanswerable question of whether their relatives might have been saved with proper care.

Most of the children orphaned in the surge are staying with relatives. A small minority have been placed in institutional care, say child protection authorities. The perils are myriad: Children who lose their parents are at higher risk of depression, dropping out of school and being exploited, experts say.

In April, messages began to circulate on social media allegedly seeking adoptive parents for children whose parents had died of covid. The appeals became so widespread that the authorities issued a warning that such direct adoptions are illegal and could be used for child trafficking.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced that the national government would cover educational expenses and provide health insurance to children orphaned by covid, as well as set aside funds they could access upon turning 18. In such trying times, Modi said, according to an official statement, “it is our duty as a society to care for our children.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 19, 2021 at 4:11pm

#Pakistan donates relief supplies to #Afghanistan to fight dangerous #India variant of #coronavirus. Supplies include ox­ygen cylinders, oxygen concentra­tors, ICU ventilators, BIPAPs, digital X-Ray machines, Thermal guns and PPEs kits. #COVID19

KABUL (Pajhwok): Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has handed over Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) to Afghanistan to combat Covid-19, according to a media report on Thursday.

In a statement issued, the NDMA said that on behalf of the government of Pakistan PPEs and medical equip­ment have been handed over to the Ambassador of Afghanistan to combat Covid-19.

SAPM Health Dr. Faisal Sultan was the chief guest of the ceremony held here. Special Representative of Prime Minister for Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq and Ambassador of Afghanistan were also present on the occasion.

The relief items included 500 ox­ygen cylinders, oxygen concentra­tors, ICU ventilators, BIPAPs, digital X-Ray machines, Thermal guns and PPEs kits. The SAPM Health highly ap­preciated NDMA’s effort to deal with emergencies and its role in combat­ing Covid in Pakistan. The Ambassa­dor of Afghanistan while appreciating the role of NDMA also appreciated this timely assistance in helping Afghani­stan to control the pandemic.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 20, 2021 at 10:07am

#India Official Warns of Early Third #COVID Wave As Highly Transmissible & Dangerous #DeltaVariant Spreads Further Faster. The virus is believed to be responsible for India’s “devastating second wave” and continues to pose a high risk to the unvaccinated

India may be hit by a third wave of Covid-19 far sooner than predicted because people are ignoring guidelines, the Times of India cited Randeep Guleria, director at the state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences, as saying.

Infections could start rising again in 12 to 16 weeks, the report quoted Guleria as saying. That compares with the four to five months new waves are expected to take to peak, the Times of India reported on Sunday.

Guleria earlier told a television channel that a third wave could come as early as in six to eight weeks time, according to the report.

He said the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus is believed to be responsible for India’s “devastating second wave” and continues to pose a high risk to a large section of the population that has not yet been vaccinated, according to the Times of India report.

India’s confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed 29 million, with more than 380,000 deaths. Experts believe both numbers are vastly undercounted.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 21, 2021 at 7:33pm

Mr. Biden announced this month plans to donate 500 million coronavirus vaccine doses produced by Pfizer to the rest of the world. Of those doses, 200 million are expected to be exported this year and 300 million in the first half of next year.

Outbreaks in countries such as India and Brazil have underscored the gap in vaccinations between rich and poor countries, with many developing nations still struggling to administer vaccines.

Of those being donated through Covax, 14 million will go to Latin America, 16 million to Asia and 10 million to Africa. The White House also listed more than two dozen countries and regions that will receive doses directly, including Colombia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ukraine, Bosnia, the West Bank and Gaza.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 22, 2021 at 7:24am

#India's #economy under #Modi. #GDP is shrinking, inflation rising. High budget deficits forcing India to borrow heavily. #BJP #Hindutva #CIOVID #DeltaVariant

Narendra Modi stormed India's political stage with grand promises - of more jobs, prosperity and less red tape.

His thumping mandate - in 2014 and again in 2019 - raised hopes of big bang reforms.

But his economic record, in the seven years he's been prime minister, has proved lacklustre. And the pandemic battered what was an already under-par performance.

Here's how Asia's third-largest economy has fared under Mr Modi, in seven charts.

Growth is sluggish

Mr Modi's avowed GDP target - a $5 trillion (£3.6 trillion) economy by 2025, or roughly $3 trillion after adjusting for inflation - is a pipe dream now.

Independent pre-Covid estimates for 2025 had touched $2.6 trillion at best. The pandemic has shaved off another $200-300bn.

Rising inflation, driven by global oil prices, is also a big concern, economist Ajit Ranade said.

India's GDP is too low and its inflation too high

But Covid is not solely responsible.

India's GDP - at a high of 7-8% when Mr Modi took office - had fallen to its lowest in a decade - 3.1% - by the fourth quarter of 2019-20.

A disastrous currency ban in 2016, which wiped out 86% of cash in circulation, and a hasty roll-out of a sweeping new tax code, known as the Goods and Services Tax (GST), hit businesses hard.

This spurred the next big problem.

Joblessness is on the rise

"India's biggest challenge has been a slowdown in investments since 2011-12," said Mahesh Vyas, CEO of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE). "Then, since 2016, we have suffered too many economic shocks in quick succession."

The currency ban, GST and intermittent lockdowns all reduced employment, he added.

Unemployment has been on the rise

Unemployment climbed to a 45-year high - 6.1% - in 2017-18, according to the last official count. And it has nearly doubled since then, according to household surveys by CMIE, a widely-used proxy for labour market data.

More than 25 million people have lost their jobs since the start of 2021. And more than 75 million Indians have plunged back into poverty, including a third of India's 100 million-strong middle class, setting back half a decade of gains, according to estimates by Pew Research.

Mr Modi's government has also created far short of the 20 million jobs the economy needs every year, Mr Ranade said. India has been adding only around 4.3 million jobs a year for the last decade.

India is not making or exporting enough

'Make in India' - Mr Modi's high-octane flagship initiative - was supposed to turn India into a global manufacturing powerhouse by cutting red tape and drawing investment for export hubs.

The goal: manufacturing would account for 25% of GDP. Seven years on, it's share is stagnant at 15%. Worse, manufacturing jobs went down by half in the last five years, according to the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis.

Exports have been stuck at around $300bn for nearly a decade.

Under Mr Modi, India has steadily lost market share to smaller rivals such as Bangladesh, whose remarkable growth has hinged on exports, largely fuelled by the labour-intensive garments industry.

Bangladesh has become a major export rival

Mr Modi has also hiked tariffs and turned increasingly protectionist in recent years - in tandem with his rallying cry for "self-reliance".

Infrastructure building is a rare bright spot

Mr Modi's government has been laying 36km (22 miles) of highways a day on average, compared to his predecessor's daily count of 8-11km, said Vinayak Chatterjee, co-founder of infrastructure firm Feedback Infra.

Installed renewables capacity - solar and wind - has doubled in five years. Currently at about 100 gigawatts, India is on track to achieve its 2023 target of 175 gigawatts.

Economists also largely welcomed Mr Modi's populist signature schemes - millions of new toilets to reduce open defecation, housing loans, subsidised cooking gas and piped water for the poor.

But many of the toilets aren't used or have no running water, and rising fuel prices have undone the benefit of the subsidy.

And the increased spending with no matching income from taxes or exports has economists worrying about India's ballooning fiscal deficit.

India is spending more mney than it has

More people have joined the formal economy

This is Mr Modi's other big achievement.

India has leapfrogged towards becoming a global leader in digital payments, thanks to a government-backed payment system. Mr Modi's Jan Dhan scheme has enabled millions of unbanked poor families to enter the formal economy with "no-frills" bank accounts.

Accounts and deposits have risen - a good sign, although reports suggest many of these accounts lie unused.

Most Indians now have a bank account

But economists say this is a huge step in the right direction, especially since it allows the direct transfer of cash benefits, cutting out middlemen.

Healthcare spending is dismal

"Like previous governments, this one has continued to neglect healthcare. India has among the lowest levels of public spending on healthcare in the world," economist Reetika Khera said.

Experts say the emphasis is on tertiary care at the expense of preventive or primary care.

India has always spent too little on health

"This is hurtling us towards a US-style health system which is expensive and has poorer health outcomes in spite of that," Ms Khera added.

And Mr Modi's ambitious health insurance scheme, launched in 2018, appears to have been under-used even during Covid.

"It was long awaited but more resources need to go into it," said public health expert Dr Srinath Reddy. India needs to use Covid as a wake-up call to invest heavily in strengthening primary healthcare, he added.

Too many still work in farming

Farming employs more than half of India's working-age population but contributes too little to GDP.

Farming has grown too little over the years

Almost everyone agrees India's farming sector needs reform. Pro-market laws passed last year are stuck after months-long protests by angry farmers who say they will shrink their incomes further.

Mr Modi, who had promised to double farm incomes, insists that's not true.

But experts say piecemeal reforms will achieve little - the government instead needs to spend to make farming more affordable and profitable, economist Professor R Ramakumar said.

"Demonetisation destroyed the supply chains, some irreparably, and GST led to a rise in input prices in 2017. The government has also done very little to alleviate the pain of 2020 [Covid lockdowns]," he added.

Mr Ranade said the solution partly lies outside farming: "Agriculture will do well when other sectors are able to absorb the surplus labour."

But that will only happen when India sees a revival in private investment - now at a 16-year low, according to CMIE - and possibly the biggest economic challenge Mr Modi faces.

Data by Kieran Lobo and charts by Shadab Nazmi

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 22, 2021 at 6:14pm

Third wave abating! #Pakistan's #COVID19 positivity rate drops to 1.69%, the lowest in 8 months!! The country last recorded its lowest positivity rate at 1.64% on October 18, 2020. #Coronavirus #pandemic

Pakistan's coronavirus positivity rate is down to 1.69% today, according to daily data issued by the National Command and Operation Center. This is the lowest positivity rate recorded by the country in eight months.

The country last recorded its lowest positivity rate at 1.64% on October 18.

A major decrease was also seen in the daily number of COVID-19 cases detected in Pakistan.

In the last 24 hours, 663 new infections have been detected and 27 people have died from the virus, according to the NCOC.

The NCOC said a total of 39,017 tests for COVID-19 were conducted in the last 24 hours.

The total number of deaths from COVID-19 in the country so far has reached 22,034 and the total number of cases has reached 949,838, while 894,352 people have recovered from the virus so far. The active number of cases currently stands at 33,452.

During the last 24 hours, the most deaths occurred in Punjab followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Out of the 27 deaths, 17 people died on ventilators.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 28, 2021 at 11:27am

#India is in the grip of severe #poverty amidst #COVID19 crisis. There's increasing malnutrition, homelessness and unemployment in the country. #Modi #economy #BJP #Hindutva

The Covid19 persists to trigger havoc all over the world and many countries are stumbling under the deadly wave of the pandemic rapidly transforming into hunger and malnutrition disasters. The bigger challenge is however to deal with the poverty caused by the pandemic, and it has unveiled the reality of our system and increasing the existing inequalities. The economic consequence is expected to be sensed for years. Lockdowns seem to have halted the rise in the cases, but many people lost their jobs and were in a situation where they were unable to support their families. A country like India which makes up approximately 17 per cent of the world’s population observed one of the sharpest decline in the GDP wiping the gains achieved in the last decades. Unemployment has raised to the highest level over the last decades as economic activity has come to a screeching halt which is since 90 per cent of the labour force is in zones with no social security. Increasing poverty, homelessness, unemployment directed to the unparalleled increase in infant mortality, mental health problems and even suicides. Around 230 million people in India plunged into poverty- living on less than US$5 per day. Inequality in India has escalated to an extraordinary level as Mukesh Ambani became the 4 wealthiest men in the world in this pandemic while it’s deprived stand unsteadily at the brink. According to a report by Oxfam,1 per cent of Indian elites held 4 times the wealth of 953 million (70%) people. For impoverished covid 19 is not a concern but the socioeconomic catastrophes which could lead to soaring in child labour and child marriages. Dalit who is deemed as a lower caste and face everyday intolerance and inadequate access to social

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 29, 2021 at 9:12pm

After #COVID surge, some signs of internal dissent against #India's #Modi. Doing badly in #UttarPradesh would be a major setback for the #BJP, analysts say, and could have a knock-on effect on the next general election. #Hindutva #coronavirus #pandemic

Govind Pasi, a grassroots member of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), says he got no help from his connections in the ruling party when his wife contracted coronavirus and died at home for lack of proper treatment.

Now, he says, he is done with the party that has ruled India since 2014 and with its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"I am heart-broken, nobody came to help us when we needed help the most," said Pasi, 45, speaking in Balai village in Uttar Pradesh state. Nearby, on the banks of the Ganges river, scores of bodies of people believed to have died of COVID-19 have washed up.

Anand Awasthi, a district vice president of the BJP, said he was aware of the death of Pasi's wife and that the party was trying to get him monetary compensation. He said there was some confusion around her death relating to whether a government database established she had COVID, but did not have details.

Pasi is among more than a dozen ground and mid-level BJP members who told Reuters they are disillusioned with the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated India. In addition, six state lawmakers in Uttar Pradesh have written letters criticising the government for not responding to frantic calls for help from their constituents, which Reuters has reviewed.

A high-profile national level BJP official in New Delhi said he was taking a sabbatical because of the "failings of providing basic medical care, mixed messaging on lockdowns, abysmal medical oxygen cylinder shortages and clear lack of priority".

He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing worries about a backlash for stepping out of line.

The BJP is a mammoth organisation, claiming 150 million members, and Reuters could not determine the degree to which the unhappiness has spread. But it is highly unusual for those within the party to speak out against Modi, who has dominated Indian politics in his seven years in power and whose control of the BJP has been unquestioned.

The BJP headquarters and the prime minister's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Kailash Vijayvargiya, a senior BJP leader who is one of its nine general secretaries, told Reuters he had no knowledge of any unhappiness or dissent within the party.

"The pandemic was tough for everyone and we know some of our workers also lost their loved ones," he said. "At so many levels we have helped each other and there were times when we could not because the situation has been very difficult."

Modi, a Hindu nationalist who gets wide support in the country's majority community, has faced criticism before, including for a shock demonetisation that threw the economy into disarray and haphazard tax reform. But the shortage of hospital beds and medical oxygen in the COVID crisis and the country's stuttering vaccination programme have battered his reputation for action and competence, analysts and opposition leaders say.

Analysts say public anger over the handling of the pandemic coupled with even some disaffection in the party rank-and-file could hurt the BJP when it faces its next political test - an election early next year in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and currently ruled by the BJP.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 2, 2021 at 12:02pm

#India #Covid: AI shows #Pakistani Twitter prayed for neighbor. Artificial intelligence (AI)-driven study which looked at thousands of tweets from #Pakistan posted between 21 April & 4 May says overwhelming number were indeed positive. #Modi #coronavirus

It is perhaps not surprising that the fractious relationship between historic adversaries India and Pakistan has spilled over into social media in recent years.

But at the end of April, as India struggled with a ferocious second wave of Covid-19, citizens on either side of the border shelved their barbs in favour of supportive hashtags like #IndiaNeedsOxygen and #PakistanStandsWithIndia.

Experts say it is well known that supportive hashtags do not always mean positive tweets - users often "hijack" them for anything from trolling to wishing happy birthday to a cricketer or Bollywood star.

But an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven study which looked at thousands of tweets from Pakistan posted between 21 April and 4 May says an overwhelming number were indeed positive.

Researchers, led by Ashiqur KhudaBukhsh of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the US, used machine learning tools to identify the tweets that expressed kindness, empathy and solidarity.

They collected 300,000 tweets with three biggest trending hashtags: #IndiaNeedsOxygen, #PakistanStandsWithIndia and #EndiaSaySorryToKashmir - the last a reference to the long-running dispute over the Himalayan territory. Of these, 55,712 tweets were from Pakistan, 46,651 were from India and the remaining were from around the world.

The researchers then ran the text from these tweets into a "hope speech classifier" - a language processing tool that helps detect positive comments. They looked for patterns to identify if the text had "hostility-diffusing positive hope speech", or words like prayer, empathy, distress and solidarity.

Their study found that tweets containing supportive hashtags originating in Pakistan heavily outnumbered those containing non-supportive hashtags and also had substantially more likes and retweets. Their method also amplified the positive tweets, making it easier to find them quickly.

"Our research showed that there's a universality in how people express emotions. If you search randomly, you'll find positive tweets a little over 44% of the time. Our method throws up positive tweets 83% of the time," Mr KhudaBukhsh said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 6, 2021 at 9:00pm

Wealth Gap in #India: Ambani is worth $80 billion, $15 billion more than last year. Adani 's wealth jumped from $13 billion last year to $55 billion. Meanwhile, number of people who are poor (with incomes of $2 or less a day) is up 75 million. #COVID19

The report noted that the Gini coefficient — a popular measure of inequality — increased from 74.7 in 2000 to 82.3 last year. The higher the number, the greater the disparity in income. A rating of 0 means that income is equally distributed throughout a society, while a rating of 100 means that one person takes home all of the income.
India slipped into a rare recession last year, after a lockdown that lasted for almost four months. While the economy recovered this year, unemployment numbers approached record levels this May after a massive surge in Covid cases this spring.
According to an analysis by Pew Research Center, India's middle class shrank by 32 million people last year as a consequence of the economic slowdown, compared to what it was expected to be without the pandemic.

"Meanwhile, the number of people who are poor in India (with incomes of $2 or less a day) is estimated to have increased by 75 million because of the Covid-19 recession," senior Pew researcher Rakesh Kochhar wrote in a post in March, adding that it accounted for nearly 60% of the global increase in poverty. That increase didn't account for the second wave.
By comparison, the change in living standards in China has been "more modest," Kochhar added.
Many households coped with the loss of income last year by cutting back on food intake, selling assets, and borrowing informally from friends, relatives, and money lenders, according to researchers at Azim Premji University in the Indian state of Karnataka. The researchers estimate that some 230 million Indians fell into poverty — which they defined as income of less than $5 a day — because of the pandemic.
"An alarming 90 per cent of respondents ... reported that households had suffered a reduction in food intake as a result of the lockdown," the researchers wrote in a May report examining the impact of one year of Covid in India. "Even more worryingly, 20 per cent reported that food intake had not improved even six months after the lockdown."
The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab has been studying the impact of the pandemic on workers from some of India's poorest states. In a report on young migrant workers from the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, the researchers found that Covid-19 pushed men out of salaried work, and women out of the workforce entirely.
"They [women] had this one chance of working. Now they are back home with their families and being pushed to get married," Clément Imbert, associate professor of economics at the University of Warwick and one of the researchers, told CNN Business.
Now, as India braces for a potential third wave of Covid-19, researchers hope the government can introduce some bold measures to cushion the impact on the world's weakest.


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