2020 was a catastrophic year. Along with the coronavirus pandemic, there were cyclones, earthquakes, wildfires, locusts attack, floods and more. Besides, many endured hardship of losing a job as a consequence of the pandemic-enforced lockdown. Many businesses were forced to shut down as they weren't able to handle the losses suffered due to the lockdown.
Even as 2021 is about to begin, the coronavirus pandemic isn't ready to go away. Instead, new 'fast-spreading' strains of the virus are being detected around the world. India has so far reported 20 cases of the mutant virus, which was first detected in the United Kingdom (UK). Besides, most countries have begun their vaccination drive against the viral infection.
In 2020, Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death case was the most discussed topic on Indian news debates. Bihar Assembly elections, US Presidential elections, India-China standoff, Shiv Sena vs Kangana Ranaut and Congress' woes were some of the other hot debates. However, most Indian news channels blatantly ignored important issues like the economy, employment and healthcare.
With this piece, let us reminded our popular TV news anchors of the following five issues that need more coverage and addressal in 2021:
1. Indian economy:
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Union Budget on February 1, 2021. The expectations from this Budget are sky-high. Not only the Indian economy needs to be pulled out from the deep abyss, but also it needs to be accelerated into a high growth economy. The FM has her task cut out of providing trillions of rupees for healthcare and vaccinating over 1.3 billion people. The balance sheet of public sector banks needs to be improved and Indian PSUs also require rebooting. However, as per International Monetary Fund’s latest 'World Economic Outlook' report, Indian economy is likely to bounce back with an impressive 8.8 per cent growth rate in 2021. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also predicted that India is expected to rebound to grow 7.9% in 2021.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data, India's unemployment rate (UER) for the month of November 2020 stood at 6.51%, the lowest since September 2018 when it was 6.47%. While the urban unemployment rate stood at 7.07%, rural UER was 6.26%. Millions have lost their jobs due to the pandemic-enforced lockdown. Filing up lakhs of government posts that are vacant for the last several years could be one solution. Reportedly, there are close to seven lakh unfilled vacancies in Central government departments and ministries as of March 2018. Roughly it is enough to employ over 10% of those rendered unemployed, considering they have the required qualifications. Besides, lakhs of teaching jobs are unfilled across the country, especially in rural areas. As per experts, IT upskilling is one of the solutions to unemployment created due to coronavirus.
3. Healthcare system:
The COVID-19 pandemic completely exposed India’s underfunded healthcare system. Critical patients all over the country were struggling to get ICU beds. Some lost their lives as the ambulance reached late while some died outside the hospitals waiting to get admitted. The pandemic exposed fundamental problems plaguing the Indian healthcare system, be it physical infrastructure, manpower, health management etc. As per reports, India’s expenditure on healthcare has increased substantially in the past few years, however, it is still very low in comparison to other nations. Even Niti Aayog Member (Health) V.K. Paul has said that India’s overall spending on the health sector is “low” and the situation must be “corrected”. In 2018-19, India’s spending on health sector was 1.5% of GDP, whereas in the developed countries like the US was 16.9 per cent, China was 5 per cent, Germany was 11.2 per cent, France was 11.2 per cent and Japan was 10.9 per cent.
4. Climate Change:
News debates in India seldom discuss the devastating effects of climate change. However, now is the time we focus on it. According to the report by researchers from Pune’s Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), India’s average temperature rose by around 0.7 degree Celsius between 1901 and 2018. It is projected to rise further by approximately 4.4°C by the end of this century. Reportedly, this will result in droughts in some regions, whereas intense rainfall and severe cyclones in others. Taking note, the Ministry of Earth Sciences has prepared its first climate change assessment report. As per the report, the low-lying coastal zones, especially on India’s east coast, may witness rising sea levels damaging property and increasing groundwater salinity. “A rise in cyclone intensities will likely result in increasing inundation from the accompanying storm surges that turn proximate agricultural lands and lakes saline, and imperil wildlife,” the report added.
5. Mental health:
The news coverage surrounding Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has shown us that neither Indian media nor the public is aware or even ready to accept mental health issues. However, if statistics are any indication, WHO estimates that about 7.5 per cent Indians suffer from some mental disorder. It adds that 56 million Indians suffer from depression and another 38 million suffer from anxiety disorders. Also, India accounts for 36.6 per cent of suicides globally. WHO further states that the mental health workforce in the country is not up to the mark and there is a huge shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists in comparison to the number of people suffering from mental health issues. Almost every other person, during the pandemic, has suffered from mental health issues be it due to loss of job, a loved one or even social isolation. This needs to be accepted and addressed.