India's contracting economy rebooting from coronavirus blow

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Migrant workers Ram Ratan, center standing, and Mansoor Ansari, seated right, talk sitting by the side of a road as they look for jobs in Manesar, India, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. There is almost no work, said Ratan, 46, who was working in a printing company before he returned to his home village in April. Ansari and Ratan are among hundreds of workers who wait every day on what is called a labor roundabout, in an industrial area, hoping to get picked up by employers. Before the pandemic lockdown, Ansari had a steady job at a garment factory in the industrial town of Manesar near New Delhi, earning $200 a month, he said. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

NEW DELHI – Millions of distressed Indian manufacturers and traders are counting on the eagerly-awaited October-December festive season to rescue them from their coronavirus catastrophe.

But spending may be the last thing on the minds of many Indians who have lost their jobs or businesses in the pandemic downturn, and pressure is building for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do more to regain the momentum of growth that, at 8.2% in 2016-17, made India one of the fastest growing major economies.

The Hindu Dussehra, Diwali and Durga Puja celebrations that extend through the Christmas and New Year holidays are an occasion to splurge on big ticket items like gold, homes and cars as well as clothing, smartphones and electronics.

This year will likely lack the customary pomp and show, given the need for masks and social distancing with the pandemic still raging and no vaccine yet available.

The government began easing a stringent two-month-long lockdown in June, but business still is only a quarter to a fifth of usual and customers are scarce, said Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders.

In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced $1.46 trillion in infrastructure projects to boost the sagging economy and allocated $2 billion to upgrading the country’s overwhelmed health system.

That followed a 1.7 trillion rupees ($22 billion) economic stimulus package announced in March, including delivering rations of grain and lentils for 800 million people, some 60% of the world’s second-most populous country.

Other subsidies included a meager cash grant of 6,000 rupees ($80) a year each for 86 million poor farmers and free cooking gas cylinders for 83 million poor women until the end of September.