476/2020 Debraj Ray and S. Subramanian
Our goal is to provide an interim report on the Indian lockdown provoked by the covid19 pandemic. While our main themes — ranging from the philosophy of lockdown to the provision of relief measures — transcend the Indian case, our context is deeply India-specific in several senses that we hope will become clear through the article. A fundamental theme that recurs throughout our writing is the enormous visibility of covid-19 deaths worldwide, now that sensitivities and anxieties regarding the pandemic have been honed to an extreme sharpness. Governments everywhere are propelled to respect this visibility, developing countries perhaps even more so than their developed counterparts. In advanced economies, the cost of achieving this reduction in visible deaths is “merely” a dramatic reduction in overall economic activity, coupled with a farreaching relief package to partly compensate those who bear such losses. But for India, a developing country with great sectoral and occupational vulnerabilities, this dramatic reduction is more than economics: it means lives lost. These lost lives, through violence, starvation, indebtedness and extreme stress, both psychological and physiological, are invisible, in the sense that they are—and will continue to be—diffuse in space, time, cause and category. They will blend into the surrounding landscape; they are not news, though the intrepid statistician or economist will pick them up as the months go by. It is this conjunction of visibility and invisibility that drives the Indian response. The lockdown meets all international standards so far; the relief package none.
Culture and Development
Indian Economic Review