When India went into one of the harshest lockdowns in the world on March 25 last year, the impact on businesses was so grave that the economy went into recession—for the first time in 40 years. Now, as the country battles a second wave of Covid-19, with active cases rising sharply by the day (552,566 cases as on March 31), there is heightened fear that whatever economic recovery has been achieved in the past six months could be wiped out.
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Shaktikanta Das, on March 25, expressed confidence that the second wave of Covid will not impede economic recovery, and that the economy would grow at the 11 per cent the central bank forecast for 2021-22. But industry experts feel the economy’s resilience will be tested by the severity of the Covid wave and be critically determined by the pace at which India vaccinates its population, particularly those in the 20-60 age group, who constitute most of the workforce.
No lockdowns have been announced yet and the Centre has left it to the states to decide the extent of restrictions to be imposed. Punjab, Maharashtra and Gujarat are in the midst of their worst outbreaks. Maharashtra and Gujarat together account for 22 per cent of India’s GDP. The rising cases and possibility of more restrictions in the two states pose a big threat to businesses and the economy at large.
While several states announced curbs on Holi gatherings, the Uddhav Thackeray government-imposed night curfew across Maharashtra from March 28. Commercial establishments, including hotels, malls and restaurants, have to down their shutters by 7 pm. The restrictions will hit the already reeling food and restaurant business, as well as organised retail, which had reported an upswing in footfalls after several slack months. Maharashtra may eventually have to lock down again if Covid cases keep rising.
A slow recovery
The nationwide lockdown had inflicted heavy losses on businesses across most sectors. While agriculture, where much of the activity is in the rural belts, did not suffer as much, manufacturing and logistics, which were allowed to continue through the lockdown, took a hard hit. Thousands of migrant factory workers left for their hometowns, impacting production and choking supply chains, and trucks were held up on the roads.
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