It was 29th January when India reported its first case of COVID-19. Since then the number of cases has been rising exponentially. To curb this growth by following social distancing, the Indian government initially implemented a 21-day Lockdown across the country, extended it till 3rd May, and were forced to stretch it till 17th May. After the recent speech by the Prime Minister of India, it is pretty clear that the Lockdown 4.0 is on its way to being effective from 18th May.
Many of you who are reading this article might fall into one of the following categories – have a corporate job, employed in the government sectors, running your own business, freelancers, pursuing your passion, or taking formal education. This lockdown might have had mixed effects on the various categories mentioned above. Some might love work from home or it may be the opposite for others; some of you might have been bored sitting at home and are praying to be ‘unleashed’ soon. No doubt even if you are bored with the routine work, you have loads of time and resources to kick this boredom. I bet, many of you might have already started working at that one thing, you always wanted to do: reading that one book; testing your culinary skills; trying your hands at painting, sketching, artwork; trying to get back into shape or working at your daily gains; or, acquiring some of the skills which would further fare you well. Even if you are done with this, you might have the privilege to sit back and binge-watch your favorite web series, hang out with friends, of course, online and discuss your long-cherished memories, or show off your gaming skills. Every bit of this is possible as you are well equipped with all the required resources. But have you given a thought on how the people from marginalized sectors and sections like the daily wage workers are faring amidst the lockdown?
Almost 90% of the working population is employed in the informal sector. The majority of the people from these sectors earn their livelihood from daily work. They can’t afford to skip a day at work and are compelled to work regularly, leaving them with no choice. It is, we, who drive their lives indirectly: a salon worker, vegetable vendor, maids and helpers, tea sellers, auto-rickshaw drivers, all need customers, who in this case are us, to make sure they win daily bread for their families. But, the lockdown has forced all of us to stay indoors, necessarily for a ‘better’ future. This is having a considerable impact on daily income earners.
Worrying survey trends
In a survey conducted by Indus Action for about a month across 15 major states of the country, involving nearly 3400 families from various districts, it has been observed that 48% of the respondents will be unemployed post lockdown. With a hard stop to their daily incomes, they are unable to fulfill their other essential needs. In this situation, people like us might be concerned about only one major threat – COVID 19; but they have multiple threats to be concerned about, including family, employment, health, and food security.
Food is one of the major concerns. Many of these people who migrate to different places, stay away from their families in search of better-earning opportunities. But, in such grave circumstances, wherein they should be together, they are miles apart. Here is one such story – “A Cab driver from Lucknow is currently unemployed during the lockdown. He is staying away from his family. His family is dependent on his friend for daily food”. But till when?
According to the survey, 17.25 % of the respondents didn’t have sufficient food to satisfy hunger. The majority of others reported having limited food stock and are vulnerable to their availability in the future. Although eligible for free ration, some of them are forced to buy ration, prices being double/triple the normal rates due to a complete shutdown of ration shops and inaccessibility. A part of those who were able to access ration using ration cards has complained about receiving a lesser portion than what they were eligible for. Instances of only rice being distributed have also surfaced; Dal, oil, sugar (other ration items) remain out of reach for many. We found other issues with the ration cards too in the survey: exclusion errors in the form of few family members being missed out and lack of information regarding the application status. Access to vegetables, milk, and kerosene (not included in ration) poses another challenge.
The survey also revealed that approximately 8% of the stakeholders are in the need of one or the other kind of medical help. The provision of accessing medicines by senior citizens is appearing to be challenging. A major trend in the requirement of medicines for heart patients is evident. Other diseases requiring medical help include tuberculosis, jaundice, kidney stones & diabetes. The parents of the newborns reported ambiguity in taking their infant babies to hospital for vaccination, fearing the risk of infection; similar is the case with pregnant ladies.
Many schemes, fewer takers
Though the government has rolled out various schemes, their reach remains questionable. 94% of the surveyed families were eligible for at least one benefit among PM Jan Dhan Yojana, MGNREGA, PM Kisan Samman Yojana, PM Ujjwala Yojana, benefits for old age/widow/disabled person, registered labor and eligible for free ration. But, nearly 20% of them did not receive any benefit. This worrying trend can be credited to Aadhar linkage problems and mobile numbers of the stakeholders not registered with banks. The snapshot below depicts the effectiveness of various schemes started by the government among the surveyed families.
Stats based on surveys from 13th April 2020 to 9th May 2020
Further enquiring regarding the knowledge of the schemes, some people reported being unaware of the above-mentioned schemes. They seemed to be ill-informed about the eligibility to be able to reap the benefits of the schemes. Though the PM Jan Dhan Yojana seems to be working, people are skeptical about moving out to withdraw money from banks amidst the COVID 19 threat.
Not only do they have to go through all this, but the major problem is the drying up of available cash with them. Some of them have reported not being able to pay the power bills and rent; added to these are the ever running public service issues among electricity connection, running out of gas cylinders, and water scarcity.
India is looking forward to resuming its industry operations starting mid-May. But the returning of the labor workforce to their homes is hinting at the labor crunch the industries might have to face. Ironically, the ones who are the indirect wheels of the vehicle are the ones who are getting rubbed amidst these grave circumstances.
*Views expressed are personal.
About the Author
Pranav is volunteering with us in the Data Analysis segment in the COVID Rapid Response Campaign. He is an Engineer by profession and has valuable industrial experience. He is also a hobbyist photographer and an avid reader. He believes in working towards a better society. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.