Walt Disney once said “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Mankind has always shown its greatest resolve in the midst of chaos. During the war of independence, Mahatma Gandhi believed that “in a gentle way, you can shake the world”. In 2020, our great war is a biological one. We have pushed the Earth too far, and now it is starting to push back. In response we are witnessing innovative ways of adapting to the changing times. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be important to recognize the positive impacts of the crisis.
The concept of working from home was unthinkable a few decades ago and only recently became accepted in India. However, it is now the only effective solution to contain the pandemic. Moreover, uninterrupted productivity, the efficiency of employees, and a significant reduction in travelling time have shown that working from home is indeed a practical option. Most importantly it ensures that loyalty will be shown to employers who take care of their employees. As circumstances change, it is important to find the balance between business continuity and concerns over employees’ health and safety.
The silver lining is that we have far less pollution, smaller carbon footprints and increased cleanliness. We have seen increased efficiency, and productivity, nature reclaiming its spaces and a re-examination of our infrastructure. The infrastructure sector is among the worst hit owing to supply chain disruptions, evaporating investments, decreased workforce and many other concerns. However, in view of the office memorandum issued by the Ministry of Finance on 19 February 2020 urging COVID-19 to be considered a natural calamity, many ministries like Ministry of New and Renewable Energy are recognizing supply chain disruption due to COVID-19 as a force majeure event. Above all we have witnessed the resilience of the human race in the face of adversity.
In response to the adverse economic effects of COVID-19, the prime minister has pledged a US$10 million emergency fund and has proposed the establishment of a rapid response team of doctors and specialists under the direction of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India has taken aggressive steps to combat the pandemic with the number of infected people at 21,370 as of 23 April 2020. The central government has imposed a nationwide lockdown and the Disaster Management Act, 2005, has been invoked, giving wide powers to the Ministry of Health and Welfare to ensure containment of the virus. The Ministry of Human Resources and Development is promoting digital learning for students. State governments have classified COVID-19 as an epidemic disease under the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, giving administrations the authority to impose strict containment measures.
Quarantine has provided us an opportunity to increase our creativity and cultural growth, with people catching up on activities such as reading, and learning languages or a musical instrument. People are becoming more self-sufficient. They are rediscovering old values and the simpler things in life. The pandemic has hit a reset button in many respects.
Nature has returned as humans retreat. As people curb their outdoor activity and close offices that consume staggering amounts of electricity, carbon footprints have significantly reduced. Restrictions on air, rail, and road traffic have reduced carbon dioxide emissions substantially. Pollution-monitoring satellites have observed a marked decrease in air pollution over China. Pollution levels have similarly decreased in Italy. Murky canals in Venice have become clearer, with a reduction in marine traffic. Dolphins are swimming much closer to the coast of Italy as well as in Marine Drive, Mumbai. Otters are roaming freely in Singapore’s empty parks, and birds fill the air with song. Nature is thriving in times of quarantine.
The human population can use this as an opportunity to reboot society so that it becomes greener and more environmentally conscious. Intelligence and resilience gave the human race dominance over other species on the planet. However, in the past few centuries, we have lost our way. Instead of being alarmed by the sudden collapse of familiar societal and familial structures, we should use these trying times as a challenge to learn, to grow and become the best version of ourselves. COVID-19 has delivered nature’s message to mankind: learn to co-exist, or nature will adopt extreme means to reclaim its space. The entire human civilization needs to unite to keep the world from succumbing to TS Elliot’s vision of the apocalypse, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
Poonam Verma is a partner and Adishree Chakraborty is an associate at J. Sagar Associates.
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Poonam Verma | Tel: +91 11 4937 0649
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