We mustn’t have to choose between lives & livelihood, says Niti Aayog VC

New Delhi: India should improve its disaster management preparation and ensure the availability of resources so that the country doesn’t have to choose between “lives and livelihood” during crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, said Niti Aayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar.

“I hope we will not have to continuously try this tradeoff or balance between saving lives and livelihoods,” he said at a global webinar on ‘Covid-19 — Fallout & Future’ organised by Bennett University’s Times School of Media .

“That’s where we are today,” he said at the closing session of the webinar on Thursday, listing the lessons India needs to draw. “I hope that there will be enough resources available with public authorities at all levels to ensure that when it comes to situations like this, we have enough resources to support lives because livelihoods will get lost when you have lockdowns.”

He said the public healthcare system must be strengthened so that it can cope with such outbreaks. “We need to get our act together so that next time we get into a situation we are much better prepared,” he said. The pandemic has also exposed the issues arising from having a big unorganised sector, he said.

“We have too large an informal sector in our economy where our workers have no social safety net, where it is difficult for us to bring about any semblance of proper working conditions,” Kumar said. “This informality of our workforce — 90% of them are in the informal sectors — has to be brought to a close.”

He called for more than the mere tokenism of signing ILO memorandums and treaties.

‘Need to Attract Healthcare

These need to be implemented, Kumar warned, or next time the country won’t be able to control the exodus of people as migrant workers stream out of cities to their homes, as happened after the lockdown was imposed.

“This time we were able to, but it is something that is quite untenable,” he said, calling for social and medical safety nets.

On the healthcare side, he said there was a need to dramatically reduce the cost of medical education in the country, which may have got over-professionalised.

“Caretakers can come in different forms… We can have technically qualified and yet not-so-expensive specialists,” he said, referring to an over-emphasis on MBBS degrees. He also called for scaling up research capabilities and attracting talent back to India for healthcare research so the country can come up with answers to new challenges.

“Why should it take as long as it takes to come up with a retroviral or a vaccine?” he said, calling for more resources and bringing together fragmented research capacities.

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