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Hunger deaths will far outweigh Covid toll: Narayana Murthy warns against lockdown extension

In a webinar, Infosys founder Narayana Murthy said India should learn to live with the virus and start moving towards relaxing restrictions in the country.

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New Delhi: N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys, warned that India could see more deaths due to hunger than the Covid-19 pandemic if another lengthy lockdown is imposed on the country.

In a webinar with business leaders Wednesday, Murthy said that India should learn to live with the virus, start moving towards relaxing restrictions in the country and ensure that able-bodied individuals return to work to protect the vulnerable.

“What is important for us to understand is that India cannot continue in this situation for too long. Because at some point of time, deaths due to hunger will far outweigh deaths due to coronavirus,” Murthy said.

Murthy joins a rousing chorus of economists who have been advising against the extension of the nationwide lockdown imposed on 24 March by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to arrest the spread of coronavirus.

Former governor of the Reserver Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan also echoed Murthy’s sentiments and said that a second or third lockdown after reopening will be “devastating” to the economy. Rajan was in conversation with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi Thursday, where he said that it will take Rs 65,000 crore to help the poor.

He also expressed concerns about the unemployment levels in the country. Citing unemployment data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Rajan said that 100 million people are off work or have exited the labour force. He called the numbers “mind boggling”.

According to latest CMIE data, the unemployment rate in India has shot up from 8.9 per cent in March to 23.5 per cent in April.

Also read: India can spend more to combat economic fallout of Covid: IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath

Death sentence for poor

Other Indian economists also expressed concerns about prolonging the lockdown and the possible impact it will have on the vulnerable sections of the country.

Belgian-born Indian economist Jean Drèze called the lockdown “almost a death sentence” for India’s poor Friday. “For most people, the lockdown is an economic disaster, the more so the poorer you are. For those who were living from hand to mouth to start with, the lockdown is almost a death sentence,” he said.

Even Kaushik Basu, former chief economist of World Bank, said Wednesday that if an exit from the lockdown is delayed, many lives can be lost for reasons other than Covid-19.

Former RBI deputy governor Rakesh Mohan also said “effective unemployment in urban India must be much higher because of the lockdown than it is in the US”.

In an interview with Mint Friday, Mohan pointed out that India’s informal workers don’t even have “a safety net to…survive temporary disruptions of livelihoods as is happening” and urged that their loss of employment and earnings be compensated by the government.

The almost six-week nationwide lockdown halted all non-essential services to curb the spread of Covid-19, severely impacting industrial sectors and leaving millions of short-term and daily wage labourers without jobs.

As of Friday, India has registered more than 33,800 cases of coronavirus and 1,147 deaths.

Also read: Raghuram Rajan bats for quick reopening of economy, says India can’t support poor for long

Disclosure: Infosys Co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy is among the distinguished founder-investors of ThePrint. Please click here for details on investors.

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