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Why covid isn’t a great leveller

  • Rising inequality has always been a challenge in India, but the pandemic’s effect has been piercing

The shock of covid-19 continues to run through the Indian economy, but contrary to what’s often said, the pandemic has not been a great leveller. Some sections of society have been worse affected than others, further exposing schisms in opportunity, employment and education that already existed. Have 10 months of living through a pandemic worsened inequality, and are there specific Budget interventions that can address this? That’s the question our panel will be debating tonight at 7pm in a live panel Mint is organizing as part of Road to Recovery—our coverage of key policy challenges in the run up to the 2021 Union Budget (see box for details).

Leading the conversation on ‘Pandemic, unemployment, inequality: The way forward’, are Manish Sabharwal, chairman and co-founder of Teamlease Services Ltd; Dr Jyotsna Jha, director of the Bengaluru-based Centre for Budget and Policy Studies; Rosa Abraham, senior research fellow, Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University; and Ashutosh Gupta, India country manager, LinkedIn. Journalist Mitali Mukherjee will moderate the discussion.

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Curated by Mint’s editors and backed by reports, editorials, commentaries and podcasts, the Road to Recovery series will run till February, not only providing insights for the proficient but also clarity for people wanting to better understand the intersection of policy, politics and economics.

Over the past two weeks, our live panel discussions have examined issues such as the challenge of funding and distributing the covid-19 vaccine, and whether the government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme is any different from import substitution, keeping in mind the upcoming Budget announcements.

Tonight, we’ll be examining how the upcoming Budget will have to account for the social costs of a year-long pandemic.

Rising inequality has always been a challenge in India, but the pandemic’s effect has been piercing—it’s not just jobs that have been lost, informal and formal networks have splintered, careers have been set back years, new graduates face an uncertain employment market, women have dropped out of the workforce, education, both at the school and college level, has taken a hit, and children have been forced to work. What is the way forward, and how can the Budget address this?

We have often heard this past year that every crisis is an opportunity in disguise. Mint’s pre-Budget discussion series aims to examine what those opportunities look like right now and how they could be leveraged to serve India’s aspirations.

As a means to address persistent and worsening inequalities, the Union Budget itself is the ideal opportunity to back intent with resources—and our panel will discuss how. Do join us.

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