Surajit Das, Anuj Vijay Bhatia, Indranil De
To understand the impact of Covid-19 lockdown in Gujarat, we have collected information about 444 people from 80 families from Himmatnagar (sabarkantha), Dahod and Anand districts of the State, in the month of July, through a telephonic survey. Our sample is definitely not a representative sample of the entire population of Gujarat however, it helps in understanding the ground level situation to some extent. It was found out that the average income of the families has become less than half but, the average expenditure, instead of coming down, has gone up slightly due to the increased prices of the essentials, for the poorer section of population, during the lockdown. Only one-fourth of the respondents have reported that their income did not fall due to the lockdown. Almost 70% families had to either borrow money or drawn down their past savings or both for running their families. More than 10% poor households are still not getting free ration, more than half of the households have not received free gas cylinder and more than 60% families have not received any money in their Jan-Dhan account even after three months of announcement of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). Universalisation of the MGNREGS is the need of the day.
We have talked to 80 people aged between 18 to 73 years – there were 3 illiterate, 38 school drop-outs, 15 secondary level, 7 higher secondary level and 17 graduate respondents were there in our sample. There was only one Muslim family and 79 Hindu families under consideration. There were 13 families from the scheduled caste (SC) background, 8 from scheduled tribes (ST), 46 families from other backward castes (OBC) and the rest 13 families were from the other (General) caste backgrounds. There were 29 farmers, 5 landless agricultural labourers, 8 non-agricultural labourers, 22 service persons, 4 shop-keepers, 12 other self-employed respondents like drivers, fishermen, snacks seller, fruit seller, welding worker, sewing worker, tailor, rickshaw puller, insurance agent, priest etc. There were 29 casual labourers and rest of them were self-employed or salaried workers in our sample.
The before lockdown income of the respondents varied from Rs.3 thousand per month to Rs.50 thousand per month. The average income of 80 respondents was Rs.13 thousand before lockdown in our sample which, has come down to less than Rs.6400 (less than half) due to the lockdown – 22 respondents (more than one-fourth) have reported absolutely zero income after the lockdown. Mostly, the self-employed or people employed elsewhere could not go to job again. Farmers had reported little change in income as compared to people employed in non-farm activities. People employed in the same village as agricultural labourers also did not report much decline in incomes. Animal husbandry along with farming provided a cushion income in time of crisis. Farmers however reported that they realized low prices as compared to last year, they faced difficulty in selling the output. Farmers who grew vegetables faced higher losses as compared to others who grew grains, tobacco etc.
The average expenditure of these 80 families was Rs.8169, which has gone up by Rs.400, on an average, after the lockdown was imposed, in the months of April, May and June. The family size varies from 2 to 15 in our sample. In per capita terms, the average monthly expenditure has gone up from Rs.1639 to Rs.1713 because of the lockdown. Most of the respondents (77.5%) have reported increase in prices of the essentials under the lockdown. Naturally, the indebtedness or withdrawal from past savings have gone up for these families during the lockdown. Average withdrawal from the past savings have been around Rs.17 thousand for 40 families and average borrowing has been around Rs.13,400 during the lockdown for 42 families for which data is available. 55 out of 80 families (almost 70%) have either borrowed money from their relatives and friends or drawn down their past savings or both for survival during the lockdown.
The highest per capita family expenditure (before lockdown) in our sample is only Rs.5000 per month. Free ration, free gas cylinder and Rs.500 per month in Jan-Dhan account were promised for these households in the PMGKY in the month of March following the lockdown. 10 respondents (12.5%) have reported that their families have not got any free ration even after 3 months of announcement of the package. 39 families have received free gas cylinder and 41 (more than half) are yet to receive it in our sample. As far as the Jan-Dhan money is concerned, only 32 families have received it and 60% of the families are yet to receive it under this extreme distress. PMGKY promises are nothing relative to their income loss but, the implementation of even that seems to be extremely inefficient – the government must pay attention to this as soon as possible. 37 families have MGNREGS job cards but more than 50% families do not have it in our sample. Excepting only 3 respondents, those who did not have the job cards said that there is an urgent need of having employment of last resort programme in the urban areas, too.
10 respondents have reported that there were other ailments in the family, apart from Covid-19, and 4 of them faced difficulties in commuting the patients to the hospitals in nearby towns due to the lockdown and also in their treatments due to lack of money. 44 respondents (more than 50%) have reported that staying at home was not comfortable at all for them during the lockdown mainly because of mental distress. Particularly, people who were employed elsewhere faced more mental distress due to uncertainty of job and income. There is huge job-vulnerability and income uncertainty in the mind of people on the ground. Many are saying that they could survive somehow on their past savings till now and that is almost exhausted – so, the future is very uncertain. Price rise of the essentials is a cause of major concern on the face of falling income. On the other hand, many farmers and fishermen have reported that they are not getting expected price of their products. One fisherman reported that they had no buyers for their produce especially for prawns. The prawns were sold in markets of Delhi for around Rs.700-800 per kg but the middlemen who used to buy prawns from the fishermen did not procure prawns as there was less demand for the costly product and also transportation was difficult. The professional priest has said. “I am Brahmin and cannot do casual work. People do not allow me to do. No work of pandit as well. Markets are not going to revive before the Diwali. Marriage season destroyed due to the lockdown. Huge loss..” Income support for loss of jobs is one of the prominent demands that is coming out clearly. Very high cost of private healthcare services is another cause of major concern.
The government must universalise the employment of last resort programme with enhanced wage rates and without any cap on the number of days of work in a year. Also, the government should ensure some cash transfer to compensate for the income loss of the poorer section of population, due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The government must expand the public sector healthcare facilities and reduce out of pocket expenditure of people on health. Also, the government should pay attention to the efficient implementation of already announced schemes. Hope, peoples’ voices would be heard, sooner than the later, in this largest democracy.
Surajit Das is an assistant professor at the Centre for Economic Studies & Planning in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Anuj Vijay Bhatia is a research scholar and Indranil De is an associate professor in the Institute of Rural Management Anand, Gujarat