COVID-19/RU­RAL

Down to Earth - - Covid-19 / Rural Crisis - @down2earth­in­dia

The In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ILO), which has de­scribed COVID-19 pan­demic as the “worst global cri­sis since World War II”, sug­gests that the prob­lem could be way big­ger for In­dia. With a share of al­most 90 per cent of peo­ple work­ing in the in­for­mal econ­omy, about 400 mil­lion work­ers in the in­for­mal econ­omy are at the risk of fall­ing deeper into poverty dur­ing the cri­sis. Cur­rent lock­down mea­sures have im­pacted these work­ers sig­nif­i­cantly, forc­ing them to re­turn to ru­ral ar­eas, it says. A sta­tis­ti­cal brief re­leased by its of­fice in Jan­uary 2019, notes that al­most 67 per cent of the in­for­mal work­ers in the coun­try be­long to poor households.

In Odisha’s Nua­pada dis­trict, in­fa­mous for high rates of dis­tress mi­gra­tion, as many as 3,869 labour­ers have re­turned home since In­dia started re­port­ing cases of coro­n­avirus. The dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tion says another 15,000 to 20,000 would ar­rive as soon as the lock­down is over. The sur­vey con­ducted by ASHA work­ers shows that most were em­ployed at con­struc­tion sites or en­gaged in other petty jobs on a daily wage ba­sis. They are now bur­den on their fam­i­lies. Till the lock­down was an­nounced, the eight-mem­ber fam­ily of Lok­nath Ma­jhi, a daily wage labourer from Kus­mal vil­lage, used to de­pend on him and his el­der son Manoran­jan who worked as a painter in Mum­bai and earned a day. Since the coro­n­avirus scare, Manoran­jan has re­turned home to be with his fam­ily. The en­tire fam­ily now de­pends on the gov­ern­ment re­lief pack­age, which Lok­nath says is not suf­fi­cient. “I could not reg­is­ter the names of two of my sons in the ra­tion card due to some prob­lem with their Aad­haar cards. So, we have re­ceived ra­tion only for six fam­ily mem­bers,” says Lok­nath, adding that their plight is go­ing to com­pound if the gov­ern­ment ex­tends the lock­down.

Amitabh Kundu, fel­low at New Del­hibased think tank Re­search and In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem for De­vel­op­ing Coun­tries, uses the lat­est Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey of 2007-08 data to ar­gue that 7-7.5

SOME KEY SUG­GES­TIONS OF THE LET­TER WRIT­TEN BY ABOUT 300 ECON­O­MISTS, ACA­DEMICS AND SO­CIAL SCI­EN­TISTS TO THE PRIME MIN­IS­TER IN­CLUDE CASH TRANS­FER OF `6,000 PER MONTH TO EACH HOUSE­HOLD AND 10 KG OF FREE RA­TIONS PER PER­SON PER MONTH

mil­lion work­ers in the coun­try fall in cat­e­gory of those who have daily or weekly ar­range­ment of works. There are another 7 mil­lion who get monthly salary but are en­gaged in in­for­mal sec­tor. Then there are the other 7-8 mil­lion peo­ple who work as ven­dors; half of them are in­ter­state mi­grants. They are the ones go­ing to be badly af­fected de­spite sev­eral state­ments made at the high­est level, says Kundu.

Though the Union gov­ern­ment has an­nounced a spe­cial fis­cal pack­age of lakh crore to help the coun­try’s 800 mil­lion poor tide over the pan­demic, economis­tac­tivist Jean Drèze says the amount “dis­count­ing the cre­ative ac­count­ing and win­dow-dress­ing” is just 0.5 per cent of GDP, or less than what the Cen­tre blew on cor­po­rate tax cuts last year (see ‘Hunger is spread­ing’, p29). A re­cent re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund shows the pack­age an­nounced by In­dia is too small com­pared to pack­ages an­nounced by sev­eral other de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing economies (see in­fo­graph). Econ­o­mist like Arvind Subra­ma­nian says the coun­try needs to re­lease a fis­cal pack­age of lakh crore, or 5 per cent of its GDP.

Around 300 econ­o­mists and aca­demics have re­cently writ­ten to the prime min­is­ter, seek­ing sub­stan­tial in­crease in the re­lief pack­age. A key rec­om­men­da­tion is cash trans­fer of per month to each house­hold and 10 kg of free ra­tions per per­son per month. The gov­ern­ment should take all mea­sures to en­sure safe har­vest­ing and post-har­vest­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Pro­cure­ment at min­i­mum sup­port price and stor­age by the Food Cor­po­ra­tion of In­dia and state agen­cies needs to be en­hanced to pre­vent a famine like con­di­tion from evolv­ing, states the let­ter. To en­sure that peo­ple ben­e­fit from the pack­age in time, No­bel lau­re­ate Ab­hi­jit Ban­er­jee sug­gests that the gov­ern­ment should not try to be­come clever. It should rather fo­cus on be­ing fast and dis­burs­ing re­lief pack­age to most of the households with­out think­ing whether there is some du­plic­ity or not.

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