Surajit Das, Atibhi Sharma, Pooja Kukreti
We have conducted a small telephonic survey of 50 households to understand the impact of Covid-19 lockdown in the State of Uttarakhand. There were total 150 male and 134 female members in those 50 families. This is definitely not a representative sample representing the entire population, however, this survey throws some light on the ground level situation to some extent. It was found that the average monthly income of the surveyed households has become less than half and 45% of the surveyed families have lost their income completely due to the lockdown. 40% families have become indebted and 70% respondents are expecting their income to come down in next six months. More than 50% households are yet to get free ration in our sample and 80% of them have not received any cash transfer or free gas cylinder.
35 Hindu families, 10 Muslim families were surveyed and the rest 5 families were not comfortable in telling their religion over telephone. 38 families shared their caste backgrounds during the survey – 17 households were from scheduled caste, 5 from other backward castes and 16 families were from general categories. 11 respondents were with educational qualification of graduation and above, 12 were 10th pass, 25 were school drop-outs and 1 person was illiterate. The respondents were from diverse occupational backgrounds – businessman, casual and contractual worker, construction worker, driver, electrician, factory worker, farmer, gardener, house painter, guest house owner, hair dresser, hotel staff, housewife, manager, mechanic, painter, plumber, private sector workers, property dealer, retired government employee, sanitation worker, security guard, self-employed, shop owner, teacher, transport worker and so on. 20% respondents have reported that staying at home was not at all comfortable for them during the lockdown.
The monthly family income of these 50 households varied from Rs.6000 to Rs. 60,000 before the lockdown. In per capita terms, the monthly income was ranging from Rs.750 to Rs.25,000 for our surveyed households. The average monthly income of these families was around Rs.23,000 per month before the lockdown. This has come down to Rs.9750 during the months of April-July because of the lockdown. There has been a fall of almost 57.5% in average monthly family income of the surveyed households. The fall in average per capita income has been 66.5% due to the lockdown. As high as 45% families have reported absolutely zero income in last four months. However, the average monthly expenditure of these families has not come down following the lockdown. In fact, some of the respondents have reported slight increase in expenditure rather than a fall. As a result of this, 40% of the families have reported an increase in their indebtedness due to the lockdown. Others could somehow manage with their past savings. Less than 30% respondents have said that their monthly income is expected to remain the same as before in coming six months and more than 70% people are either uncertain or expecting a lower income in near future. There is extreme job uncertainty and fear about future stream of income in peoples’ mind, in general. Overwhelming majority of the respondents have opined that there is a need of universal employment of last resort scheme.
Uttarakhand, one of the top states for rural migration, witnessed influx of migrants returning to their villages. Most of these are young people, some with degrees and diplomas, job holders in the cities, while many are the unskilled labour. As migrant workers settled into villages, initially they thought that the lockdown would end in a month or two but later it dawned upon them – they need jobs to survive. The demand for MGNREGA work has peaked even though the pay is less as, according to the workers, they were left with no choice. Some of the migrants have showed interest in staying back with their families in the villages, if they are provided with livelihood and better opportunities. But, most of the workers are waiting to return to cities for they feel the Government first has to successfully implement the reverse migration schemes and ventures to evoke confidence.
The per capita pre-lockdown income of 70% of the surveyed households was Rs.5,000 or less and that for the 90% households was below Rs.10,000 per month. The PM Garib Kalyan Yojana was announced in the month of March, where promises were made (among other things) about free ration, free gas cylinder and Rs.500 per month in Jan-Dhan accounts. Surprisingly, only 40% of surveyed household have reported to receive free ration in Uttarakhand during last four months. Only 20% families have received money in Jan-Dhan accounts and rest of the surveyed families either did not have this account or they have not got any money yet. None of the families have got free cylinders of cooking gas in our sample. The government must pay attention to the implementation of already announced schemes.
There is widespread disappointments and hopelessness among people. The most important demand that is coming from the ground is of employment opportunities, particularly in the urban areas. Some respondents have opined that the government has already done what maximum it could do but, majority of the respondents have lost faith on the government. People have complained about corruption by the middlemen and inefficiency of the system. Ration is not being distributed as per the promise on regular basis even after the government announcements. The programmes are not reaching the ground even under this extreme distress. People are also demanding some cash transfer as partial compensation for their income loss and debt relief. The government support, according to the people, is grossly insufficient as of now, relative to the need. Hope, their voices would be heard and the issues would be addressed sincerely, sooner than the later, in this largest democracy.
[Surajit Das teaches economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Atibhi Sharma is a student of economics at the Mithibai College, Mumbai and Pooja Kukreti teaches Botany at the Pt. L.M.S. Govt. P.G. College, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.]