NATURE gives unlimited opportunities to everyone but how many of us understand the nature is very limited. Covid-19 brought a big disaster to the economy and people, but it also generated several opportunities that Pakistan missed due to limited vision and poor governance. Although it is uncomfortable to almost every Pakistani to be self-disciplined, but its blessings are countless. I came out of quarantine other day and went for groceries. I saw roads, streets and markets were filled with people. Even the markets and shopping malls were poured with people without precautionary measures to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic in Islamabad. Especially, I saw markets flooded with people in evening. I think it is difficult decision to detain people at home. Govt and people have readymade excuses to justify their actions. We cannot afford lockdown but are we ready to pay cost of COVID-19 if outbreak is uncontrollable? I think, Pakistan cannot but can reduce it with effective governance.
The decision, to regulate market trimmings can change the fate and direction of the society. For example, if government restricts the markets to open from 8 am to 5 pm, it could save a huge amount of electricity. Electricity deficit (load-shedding) has become a culture of Pakistan, but it is much more habit of the people than the real problem. If we use sunlight, then we can reduce the electricity load significantly and thereby reduction in the electricity bills too. In exceptional cases, restaurants, vegetable/fruit and milk shops may be allowed to open till 7 pm. Day light can be used in the markets and shopping centres. This saved electricity can be used in industry, agriculture and other industrial usages. Exact statistics may not be available; however, one may notice one third part of the electricity is consumed in the evening (in-between 6 to 11 pm). This load can be reduced with this single decision and its forceful implementation similar to the other developed societies. Sooner or later, people can adopt it.
The decision to shut down the markets at 5 pm can also reduce the rush of the vehicles on roads in the evening. It can reduce carbon emissions, road congestions, air pollution and noise. This will not only improve the public health, but it can improve the quality of life of the general public which Pakistan already never realized. This decision during COVID-19 can be a blessing in disguise to spend quality time with family, capacity building, relatives and also generate even better economic opportunities. This decision can enhance the online business which is limited right now in Pakistan. Youth, who needs jobs and employment, can be trained entrepreneur to start online business. For online businesses, nonetheless, we may need the fresh legislation to protect both buyers and sellers as there is mistrust and misuse of it. Federal as well as Provincial Governments can have a legislation to protect the online business and regulate it. Even the government has better chances to collect taxes on the online business with a limited manpower. Young people can start online business with a few amounts, but they can earn a huge money and pay taxes to the national exchequer. They can spread their online business and become a business tycoon. They do not have to pay rent and electricity bills and buy online shop from Government or from a private website to start it. While selling items, they may pay tax as an essential requirement of the business.
These online businesses, as it is prevailing in the West but very limited in Pakistan, may generate a parallel economy. We do not have only new businesses, but have a new industry, supply chains, postal services, and new opportunity of employment for young people. The youngsters with only a handful machinery can earn money. They may establish their business not only within land but across borders. Nevertheless, we must know richest people (Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg) have online business. Women can be winner in the online business. This can generate more opportunities and new vistas of earnings for young women than men. These women may already sit at home, might have idle life, and limited opportunity in economic growth. With online business they can earn not only money but also have economic engagement and maintain their mental health wellbeing.
We do not only have online business for youth and women, but we can also have opportunities for adult, those who do not know online business, but they can have markets open from 8 am till 5 pm. This will not only save the precious lives of the people, but also they can discipline the formal and informal economy of the country. With these decisions and implementation measures, the state can have huge collection of the taxes. Even the excuse to pay tax with new reality will be limited. On the top of those mentioned above opportunities, the COVID-19 has improved the nature and environment. It has restricted people to play with the nature. Online business and limited market activities can conserve the nature. In a nutshell, COVID-19 generated a new world view, online business and conservation of nature. Only two decisions of Government (effective legislation and its implementation) and entrepreneurship opportunities can have a new economy. This new economy will not only save the nature but can have even more and better opportunities for the unemployed and even unskilled youth. These youth is already idle and without even vision, victim of the youths bulge and even prone to be victim of the conflict and violence, can generate a new horizon.
—The writer is Chairman, Department of Sociology at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.