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New Delhi: India erred in imposing lockdown restrictions too early and exited from it within a short period of time, which resulted in an outcome that was worse than expected, economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee said on Saturday.

Banerjee said India’s stay-at-home restrictions, imposed on 25 March, at a notice of four hours, did not foresee the migrant crisis as there was no database about migrant workers. Successive governments did not give priority to generating high quality data, which he said, led to absence of a culture of scientifically informed decision making. The consequence of lack of such a culture was evident during the pandemic, he said.

“The lockdown was probably too early. We did it too quickly. If we knew that the lockdown will last only for a short period of time, we might have wanted it when the disease already reached a lot of people. Then it will slow the spread of the disease down when we needed it to slow down. We did instead move very early and then opened up very early because we cannot keep people locked down for a very long time. That created worse outcomes than would otherwise have been," said Banerjee.

He also said successive governments did not prioritise the task of generating high quality data as they have been suspicious of losing control over data. He was speaking at a webinar organised by ‘The/Nudge’, a not for profit organisation working on sustainable poverty alleviation.

“The problem was migrants had no place to live. They always lived in the construction site. When the site is closed, they had no place to live. That kind of thing needs to be documented," Banerjee said.

“We are in a place where very little hard information about India is coming out," he said, referring to former chief economic advisor in the finance ministry Arvind Subramanian’s observation in June that there was a significant overestimation of India’s economic growth for the period from 2011-12 to 2016-17 because of methodology changes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gireesh Chandra Prasad

Gireesh has over 22 years of experience in business journalism covering diverse aspects of the economy, including finance, taxation, energy, aviation, corporate and bankruptcy laws, accounting and auditing.
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