Consolidated Reply

Query: Opportunities for revival of rural economy post COVID-19

Compiled by Dr. Essa Mohamed Rafique, Facilitator
Issue Date: 13 August 2020

From: Meera Mishra, Country Coordinator of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in India, New Delhi

Posted: 7 April 2020


COVID-19, as we know it today, is having an impact on both lives and livelihoods. While the Govt in India seems to have rightly prioritized lives over livelihoods by introducing a nationwide lockdown, this has led to the emerging issue of returnee migrants with far reaching consequences. Much is being said about the difficulties they are facing as well as the way communities are responding to this unprecedented situation. Accordingly, it would help, to know:

  1. What, if any, are the hidden opportunities for revival of rural economy and strengthening of rural infrastructure and systems in this unexpected situation that has arisen?
  2. What happens if the migrants do not or cannot go back for an extended period of time?

Responses received with thanks

R. Krishnamoorthy, Thanjavur Citizen’s Network, Thanjavur

Happy Pant, Centre for Budget and Government Accountability, Delhi.

Dr. E. Md. Rafique, WHO India, Kerala (Resp 1) (Resp 2) (Resp 3) (Resp 4) (Resp 5)

Ashis Biswas, Independent Consultant, Kolkata (Resp 1) (Resp 2)

Anand P.K, Independent Consultant, Kerala

A. Branch Immanuel, WHO India, Kerala

Biju GT, IT Consultant, Kerala

Pankaj Shrivastav, Tathyashodh Development Consultants, Dehradun

Bonani Dhar, Indpendent Consultant, Delhi

Anuradha Gopalakrishnan, Evaluation Community of India (ECOI), Delhi

Dr. D Rama Rao, Ex-Director, ICAR-NAARM, Hyderabaad

Gopi Ghosh, Consultant (Food and Agri.), New Delhi

Malika Basu, Independent Consultant, Delhi.

Dhruv, Independent Consultant, Maharashtra

Dr. Vigneshwara Bhatt, Independent Consultant

Summary

They query on “Opportunities for revival of rural economy post COVID-19” received interesting responses from the members. Broadly they pointed out that with earnings abruptly cut short, the likelihood of households falling into poverty and debt is high, as they are unable to secure food, repay loans, find employment, or sell the produce off their land. They discussed the challenges faced by migrant workers and farmers and pointed out that with India’s farm supply chain in disarray, farmers are unable to get goods to the market.

Based on some recent studies done, members highlighted that many migrant workers do not have any information about the emergency welfare measures (PMGKY) announced by government and most of the construction labour are not registered under state labour welfare board, and so would remain excluded from the monetary benefits the respective state boards are trying to transfer to bank accounts. They also highlighted that a sizable number of labourers do not have a bank account.

Participants gave the following suggestions to support the returnee migrants

  • Give free health care, while other Government schemes supply food, work, and pay, insurance and banks disburse soft loans and moratoriums
  • Aid by Direct Benefit Transfers, subsidies, and loans from banks and SHGs to ensure outreach to the poorest including benefits through Jan Dhan accounts
  • Support cooperatives and SHGs generating employment in the agriculture sector – MGNREGA and schemes like Food for Work
  • Supply options for semi-skilled jobs, skilling, and reskilling
  • Give a boost to local produce by supporting local enterprises for meeting local demand
  • Help farmers for sustaining the critical food supply chains from production, procurement to processing and marketing – especially for the perishables, milk, and other livestock products
  • Support small enterprises (MSME) for production, procurement, marketing, and processing
  • Augment household food security using public distribution system and community kitchens, especially to support the ultra-poor, women and children who will suffer owing to slashed household food budgets
  • Strengthen the role of Community based organisations and local self-government to bring the vulnerable and migrants into the State safety net, at times using IT and Ham Radio
  • Give universal support to the displaced population, irrespective of domicile and residence status
  • Address mental health issues, especially domestic violence arising from unemployment
  • Direct procurement to restore the food supply chain, 
  • Direct procurement from farmers to ensure direct cash transfers to farmers as well as landless labourers 
  • Transfer of subsidies, including crop insurance
  • Unemployment allowance under MGNREGS
  • Expanding PM-Kisan to cover rural landless/migrant workers
  • Stopping diversion of agricultural credit

Members also informed about steps taken in this direction and other experiences, which changed to hidden opportunities that come into play. Responders informed that migrant labourers in relief camps must register themselves with the local authority, so that employers could map their skills, to find out their suitability for employment. Also, ICAR is assessing the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on agriculture, and allied sectors and taking measures to minimise its effect on the country’s food security. Members reported that small farmers in Maharashtra are joining hands to take vegetables and fruits directly to the doorsteps of housing societies as big markets and Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) have ceased to function. Similar experiences including that of Karnataka shows how to tackle the migrant crisis.

In conclusion, members highlighted that the Government of India rightly prioritised lives over livelihoods by introducing a nationwide lockdown, then extending it, and is now gearing up to face the attendant economic consequences. The correct timing of our lockdown, coupled with the assertive and or aggressive enforcement of it across the largest democracy in the world, which was received well by the Indian people who were willing to tighten their belt in solidarity with the government’s decision, a second time  again when the lockdown was extended, has given rich dividends.

Comparative Experiences

Maharashtra

Maharashtra farmers are earning through direct selling amid COVID-19 lockdown (from E. M. Rafique, WHO-India, Kerala (Response 3))

With weekly markets closed and the traders/middlemen chain broken due to lockdown, farmers in many villages are establishing a new network of farmers and consumers. The small farmers in Maharashtra are joining hands to take vegetables and fruits to the doorsteps of housing societies as big markets and Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) are not fully functioning because of lockdown. Read more

Karnataka

Karnataka shows the way how to tackle the migrant crisis (from Dr Vigneshwara Bhatt, Independent Consultant)
Thousands of migrant workers were left stranded in Karnataka during the lockdown. The government announced a relief package that provided financial assistance to migrant workers and other hardest-hit workers in the unorganised sector including drivers, washer-men, barbers and flower growers. A sum of up to Rs 5,000 a month was transferred to them through DTB. This led to avoiding the mass movement of migrant workers. Read more.

Kerala

COVID-19 war rooms, Kollam, Kerala (from Biju GT, IT Consultant, Kerala)

It’s important to ensure smooth communication between hospitals and district administration during emergencies. In the COVID-19 emergency many doctors are operating from isolated wards. The Kollam district administration has set up a 24 x 7 Ham Radio control room through which the doctors who are in completely isolated wards communicate with the other medics and paramedics without any physical interaction. It has helped in better coordination amongst hospital staff and with the administration. Read more.

Related Resources  

Recommended Documentation 

Voices of the Invisible Citizens (from Happy Pant, Centre for Budget and Government Accountability, Delhi and Pankaj Shrivastav, Tathyashodh Development Consultants, Dehradun)

Study; by Jan Samaj, New Delhi; April 2020

Available at https://ruralindiaonline.org/library/resource/voices-of-the-invisible-citizens/

The Rapid Assessment study highlights impact of COVID-19 lockdown on internal migrant workers and shares recommendations for State, Industry and  philanthropies.

Report of the expert committee On strategy for easing Lockdown restrictions (from Anand P.K, Independent Consultant, Kerala)

Report; Government of Kerala; Kerala; April 2020

Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KaVKEpaNcLUwKOk6UcGCPewkQmUXDrrG/view

This report of the expert committee shares strategies for easing lockdown restrictions in Kerala.

From A. Branch Immanuel, WHO India, Kerala

India’s COVID-19 Financial Package: Rehashed Existing Programmes, Little New Spending

Article; Nidhi Jacob, Utsav H Gagwani and Shreya Khaitan; India Speed, March 2020

Available at: https://www.indiaspend.com/indias-covid19-financial-package-rehashed-existing-programmes-little-new-spending/

Article reveals that India’s financial package to help its poorest citizens incuding migrant population tide over the COVID-19 lockdown underestimates the scale of the challenge and will fall short.

This is how Modi govt plans to help MGNREGA workers during COVID-19 lockdown

Article; Maushmi Dasgupta; The Print; 25 March 2020

Available at: https://theprint.in/india/this-is-how-modi-govt-plans-to-help-mgnrega-workers-during-covid-19-lockdown/387687/

Highlights cash transfer under the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme as a measure the government is initiating to provide relief to people whose livelihood are affected due COVID-19 lockdown.

Emergency Communication Plan for District Administration (from Biju GT, IT Consultant, Kerala)

Presentation; Active Hams Amateur Radio Society, Kollam

Available at:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Ka5HJjpId9i1gtQu6XtMjWqiJd4fCc2O/view?usp=sharing

Details a plan to ensure smooth communication between hospitals and district administration during COVID-19 emergency using HAM Radio.

From Pankaj Shrivastav, Tathyashodh Development Consultants, Dehradun

Support India’s Most Vulnerable Fight COVID-19: A List Of Fundraisers You Can Donate To

Blogpost; Amnesty International India; April 2020

Available at: https://amnesty.org.in/support-indias-most-vulnerable-fight-covid-19-a-list-of-fundraisers-you-can-donate-to/#.XohBAbsBrXc.facebook

Amnesty International India shares a list of organisations working to provide support to those on the margins fight COVID-19 and hunger.

Supporting informal workers during the COVID-19 crisis

Article; Vijay Mahajan; IDR; 26 March 2020

Available at: https://idronline.org/supporting-informal-workers-during-the-covid-19-crisis/

The writer recommends using the banking system, the Direct Benefit Transfers and the Public Distribution Systems to ensure outreach to the poorest.

Coronavirus: Self-help groups in Odisha manufacture, distribute 1 million masks
Article; Deccan Herald, April 2020

Available at: https://www.deccanherald.com/national/east-and-northeast/coronavirus-self-help-groups-in-odisha-manufacture-distribute-1-million-masks-821618.html

Amid the growing concern over the shortage of protective gear, self-help groups  (SHGs) in Odisha manufacture over one million masks for distribution among people. 

Kerala Anganwadis are delivering mid-day meals to homes during Coronavirus shutdown so kids don’t go hungry

Article; India Today; Thiruvananthapuram; 14 March 2020

Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/news/story/coronavirus-shutdown-kerala-delivering-mid-day-meals-homes-of-anganwadi-children-1655446-2020-03-14

As a gesture from the Kerala government, Anganwadi teachers are delivering mid-day meals to the homes of Anganwadi children so they don’t go hungry during the Coronavirus outbreak shutdown.

Varanasi’s smart city command, control centre now ‘COVID-19 War Room’ with CCTV, GIS tech

Article; Business Today; Varanasi; March 2020

Available at: https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/trends/varanasis-smart-city-command-control-centre-now-covid-19-war-room-with-cctv-gis-tech/story/400301.html

Informs that the Smart city command centre in Varanasi that was being used for municipal services, traffic management and water supply among others till now was used to control migrant movement in COVID 19

Unlocking the Urban: Reimagining Migrant Lives in Cities Post-COVID 19 (Malika Basu, Independent Consultant, Delhi.)

Study; Aajeevika Bureau; 2020

Available at: http://www.aajeevika.org/assets/pdfs/Unlocking%20the%20Urban.pdf

The in-depth field research on the condition of migrants’ in two Indian cities – Surat and Ahmedabad provides important policy recommendations to improve the working and living condition of migrants.

From E. M. Rafique, WHO-India, Kerala (Response 3)

Why Farmers In Tamil Nadu Are Selling Their Cattle

Article; Jeff Joseph; The Lede; 13 April 2020

Available at: https://www.thelede.in/tamil-nadu/2020/04/13/why-farmers-in-tamil-nadu-are-selling-their-cattle

Brings to light how with many farmers heard mulling their options about moving out of the villages, the first to let go off due to the water scarcity and retreat of agriculture tare the cattle.

Coronavirus effect: Cows get strawberry treat as farmers fail to sell premium produce amid lockdown

Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/business/story/coronavirus-in-india-cows-get-strawberry-treat-as-farmers-fail-to-sell-premium-produce-amid-lockdown-1662741-2020-04-03     

Demand for such premium farm produce typically jumps in the summer, but with India’s farm supply chain in disarray, farmers are unable to get goods to market.

ICAR assessing impact of COVID-19 lockdown on agriculture, allied sectors

Article; The Hindu Business Line, 5 April, 2020

Available at: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/icar-assessing-impact-of-covid-19-lockdown-on-agriculture-allied-sectors/article31262156.ece#

Article informs that ICAR is assessing the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on agriculture, and allied sectors and taking measures to minimise its effect on the country’s food security.

Coronavirus Lockdown V: Three ways govt can help farmers, migrant workers overcome the current crisis

Article; Prassana Mohanty, Business Today, 9 April 2020

Available at: https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/coronavirus-lockdown-covid-19-crisis-ways-govt-can-help-farmers-landless-labour-migrant-workers/story/400622.html

The report suggests ways the government can help farmers and migrant workers overcome the current crisis. Lists quick policy measures that can be taken to ensure income and credit flows.

How Maharashtra farmers are earning through direct selling amid COVID-19 lockdown

Article; Radheshyam Jadhav, The Hindu Business Line, 30 March 2020

Available at: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/how-maharashtra-farmers-are-earning-thru-direct-selling-amid-covid-19-lockdown/article31209005.ece

Reports that small farmers join hands to take vegetables and fruits to doorsteps of housing societies as big markets and Agricultural Produce Market Committees are not functioning because of lockdown

COVID-19 | Karnataka shows the way how to tackle the migrant crisis (from Dr Vigneshwara Bhatt, Private Consultant, Mysore.)

Article;

Available at: https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/covid-19-karnataka-shows-the-way-how-to-tackle-the-migrant-crisis-5235151.html

Informs about Karnataka governments scheme aimed at providing financial assistance to migrant workers and other hardest-hit workers in the unorganised sector.

 

Responses in Full 

R. Krishnamoorthy, Thanjavur Citizen’s Network, Thanjavur

Ms. Meera Mishra! Right at the beginning I tweeted to PMO saying that migrant labourers trekking home may face death due to exhaustion and lack of food. We will find more dead bodies on the NHs due to the above and less than COVID-19. Then came the orders in force. The other things will have to be addressed at the earliest.

Happy Pant, Centre for Budget and Government Accountability, Delhi.

I am sharing a report ‘Voices of the Invisible Citizens’ based on a rapid assessment on the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on internal migrant workers, which has recommendations for state, industry and philanthropic agencies.

The report says that it’s quite disturbing that more than 60% of those surveyed did not have any information about the emergency welfare measures (PMGKY) announced by govt. More than 90% of construction labour were not registered under state labour welfare board, and so would remain excluded from the monetary benefits the respective state boards are trying to transfer to bank accounts. Another matter is that 17 % don’t have any bank account. The report is produced by Jan Sahas (an organisation that promotes protection of rights of socially excluded communities)

E. M. Rafique, WHO-India, Kerala (Response 1)

There is no doubt that soft loan is necessary to enable revival of rural economy and help the Local Self Governance Department (LSGD) to take care of their breadwinners who in turn can take care of their dependent people. This will avoid the spiral that the virus triggers towards an economic collapse. For, this there must be no deficit in the three vital services, namely the Health Department protecting lives, the LSGD through its cooperatives providing employment, and the loan providing banks, shoring up the take-home payments and relieving debts.

In addition, the best way for local authorities to end lockdowns and ease their economic effects is again to join hands with Health Department to attack the virus, with the aggressive and comprehensive package of time-tested public health measures that we know so well, namely: find, test, quarantine and treat every case, and trace every contact.

Alternatively, if we rush in and lift the lockdowns and shutdowns prematurely, the virus could peak the graph, thus overwhelming and tilting the economy into a even more severe and prolonged tailspin.

Some states are providing many government schemes, and insurance for those in the front lines and migrants against the virus, as well as free care, including cash transfers, for COVID-19, regardless of a person’s insurance, migrant, or residence status, especially for the homeless, or displaced people. Therefore, these measures have to be not as ones that mitigate the effects of the pandemic, but early enough to be a proactive protection against the increase in risk that accompanies poverty.

Ashis Biswas, Independent Consultant, Kolkata (Response 1)

To do that, one needs to tackle the following – screen returnees. Since one chance was lost at Anand Vihar and elsewhere, there will be more immigrants returning after the lockdown is lifted. This chance should not be lost.

  1. Allow movement to mandis and retail markets – this is the harvest season across large parts of India,
  2. Increase time frame and loan amounts under Kisan Credit Cards,
  3. Moratorium on bank loans, and
  4. Diesel subsidies,
  5. Food support for small and marginal farmers,
  6. Better planning and implementation of MGNREGA and restart Food for Work,
  7. Use the above two schemes to improve silos and storage at the local level,
  8. Consultative process with grassroots NGOs and CBOs to better “target” ultra poor,
  9. Explore alternative crops with better shelf life. 

Just a few things which came to me.

Anand P.K, Independent Consultant, Kerala

Ensuring money for subsistence into the hands of migrant labourers back in their villages has to be done on war footing. Mahatma Gandhi NREGS implemented through PRIs could be leveraged for the same. The cap of 100 days employment per year need to be increased and operational delay in payments to be contained.

I would like to share the Report of the expert committee on the Strategy for easing lockdown restrictions, Government of Kerala – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KaVKEpaNcLUwKOk6UcGCPewkQmUXDrrG/view?usp=sharing

A. Branch Immanuel, WHO India, Kerala

I would like to share the following articles relevant to this topic –

India’s COVID-19 Financial Package: Rehashed Existing Programmes, Little New Spending –

https://www.indiaspend.com/indias-covid19-financial-package-rehashed-existing-programmes-little-new-spending/

This is how Modi govt plans to help MGNREGA workers during COVID-19 lockdown

https://theprint.in/india/this-is-how-modi-govt-plans-to-help-mgnrega-workers-during-covid-19-lockdown/387687/

Biju GT, IT consultant, Kerala 

Thank you Dr. Rafique for the information. We have setup different type of support for the district administration in Kollam in Kerala and South India. We have set up a sort of communication support for the doctors who work inside covid19 ICU ward. This the health doctors communicate the other medics and paramedics without much physical interaction. I will am sharing document which will be useful for others to set up this kind communication control room in other parts of the world.

COVID 19 War Room Collectorate Kollam –

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Ka5HJjpId9i1gtQu6XtMjWqiJd4fCc2O/view?usp=sharing

Ashis Biswas, Independent Consultant, Kolkata (Response 2)

The first thing is probably a cut back on wages, especially with the economy not doing too well. Some of the more enterprising ones would probably start a small enterprise simultaneously to make ends meet. Quite a few of their immediate dependents, spouse, and children may return to their villages. This would have its own set of vulnerabilities. Children who stay on in the cities will probably be compelled to work, often under exploitative circumstances. 

However, most of the migrants will tend to stay on despite lowered wages and longer hours. Cities do offer more opportunities which pay much needed cash at the end of the day unlike farming which is a much slower grind and unless remedial measures are taken, there will be growing under employment with even poorer returns from agriculture. Rural indebtedness will increase unless the Government steps in. 

Nutritional levels of specially women and children will suffer as the family food budget will be correspondingly slashed. 

There is the unfortunate possibility of a quantum increase in both urban and rural crime as both men and women will be driven by need.

Pankaj Shrivastav, Tathyashodh Development Consultants, Dehradun


Thank you for this thought-provoking query. As Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Mindful of the constraints of Whatsapp, I keep my response brief.

Based on the latest reading, to my mind, the following opportunities exist to alleviate the suffering of returned migrants and poor rural populations that can be institutionalised in the coming future:

  1. Learning from spontaneous efforts by civil society actors to strengthen disaster response systems with Climate Change and globalisation, possibilities of disasters are expected to rise in the coming decades. A number of civil society actors have already started responding to the need for food and shelter of the “displaced” migrant labourers (See Amnesty’s list of NGOs working on the issue – https://bit.ly/2RqqjkA and the Rapid Survey by Jan Sahas already uploaded on this forum). A plethora of operational learnings are emerging which can be harvested.
  2. Strengthening organisations and systems to ensure food and money reaches the poorest

I mention only a few of suggestions/initiatives: 

  1. Vijay Mahajan recommends using the banking system, the Direct Benefit Transfers and the Public Distribution Systems to ensure outreach to the poorest. https://bit.ly/2RsbUEk
  2. Using Community-Based Organisations as a productive force. E.g.:
  3. Self-help groups in Odisha manufacture, distribute 1 million masks – https://bit.ly/3c8b2gg 
  4. Kerala Anganwadis delivering mid-day meals to homes during Coronavirus shutdown – https://bit.ly/2UZma9n 
  5. Systemic Innovations to respond to COVID-19

Many systemic innovations have come up, listing just a few here:

  • Smart City control centre Varanasi converted to ‘COVID-19 War Room’ with CCTV and GIS – https://bit.ly/2UXx7Z1 
  • COVID 19 Solution Challenge launched by GoI to attract innovative ideas/ technologies – https://innovate.mygov.in/covid19/ 
  • NIF – Inviting ideas for gainful engagement of people at home, healthy food for nutrition and boosting immunity during lockdown – https://bit.ly/2x7E7cR 

Hope this helps

Bonani Dhar, Independent Consultant, Delhi

Women’s lives are adversely affected due to loss of jobs of migrant labourers to begin with. Lack of inflow of income directly hits the quality of food and nutrition. The women then become victims of domestic violence in the hands of frustrated men folk. The report proves some of these burning issues. 

The fact therefore is, even if the GOI has given priority to lives over livelihood, the issues arising out of loss of jobs adversely are serious. They are affecting lives of women, children, sick and the elderly. Violent situations arising due to depression as an effect of loss of income, is serious and needs to be given attention immediately for the complete well being of those who are surviving.

https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/domestic-abuse-cases-rise-as-lockdown-turns-into-captivity-for-many-women-1661783-2020-03-31?sr=fbia

Anuradha Gopalakrishnan, Evaluation Community of India (ECOI), Delhi

Thank you for this wonderful idea of online discussions with key experts.

I personally feel, revival of agriculture and providing necessary support to the farmers and farm families will be an opportunity to revive the rural economy itself. Agriculture and farmers are the backbone of our rural economy.  People started moving out of agriculture as it was not remunerative due to policies of LPG.

So if we address the issues in the current agriculture sector and provide support and appropriate guidance to the farmers we can boost our rural economy by increasing production, employment (migration will reduce) and take care of food and nutrition security of the country.

Technology is the key to scale up the successful initiatives and our country will be self-sustainable in respect to agriculture and allied sector. We can promote produce and consume locally.

Dr. D Rama Rao, Ex-Director, ICAR-NAARM, Hyderabaad

Few pertinent questions: 

It is not only non-local workers, our students also came back / trying to come back. Large number of them could afford to stay for few more months and continue their studies. What are common concerns in these two groups? Is it fear or non-belonging or some thing more deeper?

What fraction of non-local workers may have tried to go back? Did it happen at the same scale in all parts of India? Are we over reacting to more case reporting from Delhi? Why aren’t such migrations reported from other parts of India – especially down south and west. In any case even if it is small fraction, it is an issue as they are poor, weak and almost voice less. 

Returning migrants is typical case of casualty of lockdown action. Rather than mentioning it has not been prioritised, better to say in the pace of actions not enough thought was given to it. Even low priority item gets some attention.

Let us look at the migrant labour decision to go back. This happened with some migrant workers. This did not happen with non-local workers as well as those below poverty line eligible to receive government schemes benefit. Most non-local workers are poor and qualify for benefits aimed at below poverty line families.

The issue is why aren’t they covered in the government schemes. Unless they come under the ambit of local governance, they may not receive benefits such as old age pensions, subsidised rations, housing and others. In some cases, the non-local workers may like to retain their domicile link to avail benefits at their native places. In some cases they may not be eligible for local government benefits for want of pre-requisites like years of residence at the work place, etc.

In some cases, the local polity may be against including them either for lack of clear guidelines or for no specific reason. In any case, their existence is a casual phenomenon. In absence of proper wage work or uncertainty about future work prospect and health security of their family, it is logical decision to go back to their native places.

Coming back to the issue: Neither the governments nor the civil society organisations paid much attention to the localisation of non-local workers. 

Gopi Ghosh, Consultant (Food & Agri), New Delhi


The unprecedented crisis thrown up by the Corona pandemic has made all activities standstill. As the uncertainty of the possible massive spread of infection prevails, the lockdown decision is the only effective means available for the governments to reduce the spread for the time being. Simultaneously the emergency assistance for the provision of essential food, water, medicines and safe shelter homes may be stepped up on war footing.

The situation becomes precarious as nobody could guess as to how long the condition may prolong, what would be the next hotspots or to what extent the disease and the attendant containment or restriction measures may impact adversely on the lives and livelihoods of all sections of the populace. Or for that matter how long the tools such as shutdown would be physically, economically or realistically possible. And the full impact of the disease may not be known for quite some time in future- in what way the devastation and disruption occurred in raw materials supply and production, aggregation, processing, marketing and trade and consumers.

It is more threatening for the poorer sections, the daily wage labourers and the huge migrant workers – whose livelihoods and earnings have been abruptly cut short. Scores of such people have not got enough time and warning to go back to their respective homes – a relatively safer situations- as the relief measures provided by many agencies have so far been inadequate and uncertain. 

There seems to be fewer options at sight at this point of time. The risks of infection is very real as we saw the transmission rates go up whenever the human interaction is relaxed or people become complacent. Therefore restarting the trade and industry as it were before, has to be thought many times to avoid spiraling of the infection- that India has so far somehow successfully managed. 

However, food environment – food availability, physical access, convenience, prices- is changing rapidly with continued close down could completely destroy the value chains. So the primary task now, as also when things are back to near normal is to gather data and information of the real damage and disruption, where these are most seen, who all are affected, what are the priority intervention measures for revival and upscaling effort being done as well as needed by the affected persons and sectors. MSME sectors being vulnerable most that also employ large amount labourers could be looked into as strategy for key intervention. 

As still it will be quite some time before normalcy restores, the immediate intervention of food and nutrition, health and other essentials must be taken up for the most vulnerable sections possibly with the help of public agencies and others in a coordinated manner. Critical food supply chains from production, procurement to processing and marketing – especially for the perishables – F&V, milk and other livestock products. The assistance may be for sustaining the functioning of food value chain.

Poor farm people might have consumed up all resources including seeds. They could not market their produce incurring huge loss. They may need immediate small scale support to rebuild their operations.

While doing all these also to see that the people involved are kept out of bounds for any fresh infections of COVID19 transmission. We need to create strong awareness campaign to ward off rumours and infections alike. 

As the situation is going to be changed beyond proportions, some creative strategies must be put into use with regard to re-establishing every food and livelihood activities. As the globalisation aspect will need serious revisiting we may be forced to think about localisation in every aspect of term- production, traditional home / village based processing, and promotion of local cuisine and culinary practices (relook Slow Food movement). Measures are also to be adopted to prevent wastage encouraging local level storage capacity and practices. Once again I think Swadeshi will be the mantra to be adopted for all economic activities now on.

We need to find smart ways of supporting small holders whether in production, procurement, marketing or processing.

The returnee labourers integration in their own village or towns may not be easy and automatic. There may be rumours and resistance. There may be need for re-skilling or encouraging fresh set of skills from the evolving and emerging scenarios. 

In case of prolonged lock down situation we need to survey specific areas, corridors, subsections that be spared at least partially and accordingly advocate for relaxation and starting up some less risky activities.

E. M. Rafique, WHO-India, Kerala (Response 2)

Following a Video Conference attended by all district Collectors today on 14th april with the Secretary to the Govt. of India, Ministry of Labour & Employment, regarding the collection of data, a new format has been introduced.

Accordingly, the District Collectors have requested today the district authorities to collect the details of migrant workers sheltered in the camps in this prescribed proforma henceforth and ignore all other proforma which is currently in use. 

This we all know is just a preliminary to planning and establishing an organized holistic program and implementing it in a methodical fashion urgently in the next few days.  

Hope this will help ease immediately some of the acute problems faced by the migrants in their present shelters.

Malika Basu, Independent Consultant, Delhi.

MHA issues SOP for movement of stranded labour within the State/UT. It says migrant labourers in relief camps to be registered with Local authority & their skill mapping be carried out to find out their suitability for various works. No movement of Labour outside the State/UTs.

Also sharing a report on Unlocking the Urban: Reimagining Migrant Lives in Cities Post-COVID 19

http://www.aajeevika.org/assets/pdfs/Unlocking%20the%20Urban.pdf

E. M. Rafique, WHO-India, Kerala (Response 3)

Evidence of the increasing need for helping the poorer sections of the society is becoming more clear with every passing lockdown day. One evidence comes from reports of farmers selling cattle in Tamil Nadu, as can be read at:

https://www.thelede.in/tamil-nadu/2020/04/13/why-farmers-in-tamil-nadu-are-selling-their-cattle

On the other hand, the small farmers in Maharashtra are joining hands to take vegetables and fruits to the doorsteps of housing societies as big markets and Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) are not fully functioning because of lockdown, as reported in:

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/how-maharashtra-farmers-are-earning-thru-direct-selling-amid-covid-19-lockdown/article31209005.ece

However, in Satara District of Maharastra cows got a strawberry treat as farmers failed to sell this premium produce amid lockdown. The report stated that demand for such high-value farm produce like strawberries typically jumps in the summer, but with India’s farm supply chain in disarray, farmers are unable to get goods to the market.

https://www.indiatoday.in/business/story/coronavirus-in-india-cows-get-strawberry-treat-as-farmers-fail-to-sell-premium-produce-amid-lockdown-1662741-2020-04-03

Meanwhile, not all seems lost as ICAR is assessing the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on agriculture, and allied sectors and taking measures to minimise its effect on the country’s food security. In addition, ICAR had offered all its guest houses located in different states for quarantine use. Further, ICAR further said its institutes are providing food and ensuring hygiene in nearby labourer colonies.

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/icar-assessing-impact-of-covid-19-lockdown-on-agriculture-allied-sectors/article31262156.ece#

Finally, one report suggested some ways the government can help farmers and migrant workers overcome the current crisis. This report listed quick policy measures that can be taken to ensure income and credit flows. They are: 

direct procurement to restore the food supply chain, 

Also direct procurement from farmers will result in direct cash transfers to farmers as well as landless labourers 

Transfer of subsidies, including crop insurance

Unemployment allowance under MGNREGS

Expanding PM-Kisan to cover rural landless/migrant workers

Stopping diversion of agricultural credit

See:

https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/coronavirus-lockdown-covid-19-crisis-ways-govt-can-help-farmers-landless-labour-migrant-workers/story/400622.html

Dhruv, Independent Consultant.

In Maharashtra, it is found that there is an excess power generation because of industry is lockdowed, on one hand, and on the other hand, the farmers are still getting supply in the evening! There is strong demand raised with GoM that why the farmers are getting electricity during day-time. This will ease off the burden on both power plants and the farmers.

E. M. Rafique, WHO-India, Kerala (Response 4)

I agree with you that the Government of India rightly prioritised lives over livelihoods by introducing a nationwide lockdown, then extending it, and is now gearing up to face the attendant economic consequences. The reasons are not too far to fathom: 

For, all our epi-models of the pandemic show that whatever way we tweak the pandemic’s characteristics and add on our full-preparedness response in that model, the timeline from start to clearance of the pandemic remains constant. This makes the finishing of the pandemic by the 10th or 11 month only. 

The Government is therefore confident that in prioritising lives, by not peaking the graph, the saved lives, and the long time line over which the infection is consequently spread over, will help the saved lives to contribute and rebuild the economy in the longer time now made available. 

On the other hand to have a catastrophe with a peaked graph scenario, where the economic recovery chances would also bear the brunt, along with the additional inability to recover as recovery per se requires its own time. 

And so, most economists are predicting that not peaking the graph pattern is good for reviving the economic slump. 

For this, is the only gleam in the gloom, as after the slump, India and China would be the only two major economies likely to register growth, with all others contracting, according to the predictions in this report at:

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/indicators/imf-projects-indias-growth-rate-at-1-9-in-2020-forecasts-global-recession-due-to-covid-19/articleshow/75142792.Com

Dr Vigneshwara Bhatt, Private Consultant, Mysore.

COVID-19 | Karnataka shows the way how to tackle the migrant crisis

https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/covid-19-karnataka-shows-the-way-how-to-tackle-the-migrant-crisis-5235151.html

E. M. Rafique, WHO-India, Kerala (Response 5)

“_Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself_.” said Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Accordingly, to continue the debate of putting lives over livelihoods, we can follow Eleanor Roosevelt and learn from the US. 

For, in the US there were 6,04,070 COVID-19 cases, and a total of 25,871 deaths with 25,802 new infections reported daily, going by the situation report of WHO  as on 16 Apr 2020. Let’s compare India with less than 12K infections and less than four hundred deaths on that day. 

As India is a country that put men before money, instead of dollars before deaths, we would not be wrong in concluding that India comparatively is coming out better in the COVID-19 aftermath thanks to judicious use of the learning from past experiences, and now with this learning being strengthened with the evidence brought out by the pitfalls of others. 

Therefore, we will also not be wrong to conclude by the same comparison that the correct timing of our lockdown, coupled with the assertive and or aggressive enforcement of it across the largest democracy in the world, which was received well by the Indian people who were willing to tighten their belt in solidarity with the government’s decision, a second time  again when the lockdown was extended, has given rich dividends, in comparison with countries who preferred wealth over health of its people, the latter thus throwing both caution and medical science to the winds. 

Extrapolating this trend, it will be another foolhardy error of judgement to lift the sanctions in US prematurely. For once bitten, they say must be twice shy.


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