In India, the sudden and unprecedented announcement of nationwide lockdown on 22nd March, 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 has brought the lives of 1.3 billion people to a grinding halt.This paper attempts to examine its looming socio-economic consequences, especially on the vulnerable section. Restrictions on travel and shutdowns of businesses have led to immense distress, most visible on the migrant workers of the country. The woes of unemployment, low incomes, rural distress, malnutrition, and widespread inequality will only leave deeper impact on the lives of the most vulnerable masses. The productivity shocks will have a staggering impact on poverty in India as a significant migrant population has been employed in informal non-agricultural sector. Without sustained support, this global crisis could lead to a major poverty and food insecurity in India. India has to not only deal with the present health crisis but also with the already existing problems of unemployment, low incomes, rural distress, malnutrition, and widespread inequality which is further aggravated. The situation has added to the miseries of the poor, with huge job losses and rising food insecurity. The paper follows to critically analyse the COVID Relief Package announced by the Government of India and recommends measures of improvement to strengthen the efforts of the Government in the cumulative manner.
With the intent to contain the spread of COVID-19 in India, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi with effect from March 25th 2020, announced a nationwide complete lockdown for its population of 1.3 billion people. The lockdown brought about 70 percent of the country’s economic activity, investment, exports and discretionary consumption to a standstill. Only essential goods and services such as agriculture, mining, utility services, some financial and IT services and public services were allowed to operate. This may have helped limiting the health crisis but has posed a greater risk to the already grim economy of the country.[i] Experts predict, the biggest lockdown of the world that shut a majority of factories and businesses, suspended flights, stopped trains and restricted movement of vehicles and people, may have cost the Indian economy Rs 7-8 trillion during the 21-day period[ii]. The World Bank said that India’s economy is expected to grow 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent in 2020-21 fiscal year, which started on April 1st 2020. This will be the slowest growth rate recorded since the economic reforms in 1991[iii].
The national lockdown has severely affected lives and livelihoods across urban & rural India. Agriculture and allied sectors employ more than half of the workforce in the country. About 85percent of Indian farmers are small and marginal farmers with less than two hectares of land. More than nine million active fishers directly depend on fisheries for their livelihood, 80percent of which are small scale fishers; the sector as a whole employ over 14 million people.[iv]The worst part of the countrywide lockdown was that it coincided with the country’s peak harvesting time of a variety of crops of the season. Summer vegetables and fruits were ripened and ready to pick; wheat, paddy and barley crops were ready for harvest but all the hard work of the farmers went to waste due to the sudden halt of the country.[v]
India has to not only deal with the present health crisis but also with the already existing problems of unemployment, low incomes, rural distress, malnutrition, and widespread inequality which is further aggravated. The situation has added to the miseries of the poor, with huge job losses and rising food insecurity. After the lockdown, the Government of India announced free rations and cash transfers to the migrants. Experts believe that the relief offered is small and narrowly targeted. Adecent cash amount should be given to help them stay at home during lockdown. The World Bank too has expressed concern that reverse migration could otherwise take the pandemic to the villages of India. Indian public health experts, on the other hand, weigh the risks differently and claim that in a country that may see its 400 million people working in the informal economy fall into even deeper poverty due to the lockdown. More will die of hunger, than the coronavirus causing COVID-19[vi].
[i]World’s biggest lockdown may have cost Rs 7-8 lakh crore to Indian economy
[ii] World’s biggest lockdown may have cost Rs 7-8 lakh crore to Indian economy
[iii] World Bank sees FY21 India growth at 1.5-2.8%; slowest since economic reforms three decades back
[v]Local food systems and COVID-19; A glimpse on India’s responses- City Regions Food Systems Programme, By Pramitha Elizabeth Pothan (Master Student in Human Development and Food Security, Roma Tre University), Makiko Taguchi and Guido Santini, FAO