Coronavirus has upturned the world – and forced us to revisit India’s economic history

The spread of these pestilences was accentuated by dense populations of large sizes, suffering from deprivation of various kinds, including in civic amenities, like water and sanitation – a general lack of what used to be described as “development”. In other words, is the spread of infection related to deprivation of some kind, overcrowding, lack of cleanliness, poor infrastructure like access to water and toilets? It is possible that African Americans live in crowded spaces and have poor access to health infrastructure because of the wages they earn. A map of hotspots in Delhi, where there has been a surge of attacks, reveals a similar pattern of Lady Corona feasting in areas with tightly packed populations, lack of food and health services. The question that Lady Corona is forcing us to grapple with: are there any other options by which India could engage with development without dragging vulnerable people away from home without any social protections? Not so long ago, a high profile economist who headed an important government policy making department commented: “Agriculture is a sunset industry, there is no need to back it up anymore.” A shining example of that idea is what is called the Amul project: the Kaira district milk cooperative federation where decentralised local production at the level of farms was combined with marketing and distribution in dairy centres, without shifting assets and people out of an area. I remember Ivan Illich in his book, Shadow Work, was fascinated by the possibility that India offered what can be called economic growth with justice. This could ensure there is no peaking of economic inequality, no shifting of populations, no overcrowding in urban areas, no sucking up of underground water, no cannibalising of coal to generate power. Even after Lady Carona has shown us our pitfalls, the conversations are still dominated by those who are called mainstream economists, whose education, experience and ideas were incubated in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, in large firms.

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