Covid-19 is a word started buzzing around the world on 11th February 2020 when WHO officially named the disease caused by Novel Coronavirus. The name was selected based on initial letters of from the words ‘co’ for corona, ‘vi’ for virus and ‘d’ for disease, and 19 because it started in 2019. This Covid-19 disease has brought India to a halt, and all the officials and professionals from the health sector are trying to containing the disease by quarantining people, testing and, treating them. Till 1st May 2020, In India Covid-19 cases have crossed 37,250 figure-outs of which 27% of people have been cured/ discharged from the hospitals.
India was supposed to come out of the lockdown on 3rd May 2020 but MHA on Friday issued the notification on the extension of lockdown till 18th May 2020. Though every sector is affected by this lockdown and job losses will occur sooner or later, the poor will suffer the most as finding employment will not be easy. India has 465 million people in the labor force out of which 10% of people are in regular employment, rest 418.5 Million people are daily wagers, self-employed, or informally employed.
To put things into context, A Survey of 11,159 migrant workers conducted between April 8th to April 13th, 2020, by Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) says
“more than 90% surveyed migrant workers did not receive Rations from the government. 89% of surveyed did not get paid by their employers and 78% of the surveyed workers had only less than 300 Rs left with them”.By SWAN
Covid-19 and Rural India
Due to a lack of livelihood options and uncertainty in the near future, Reverse Migration is on the cards despite assurances given by various governments on food and employment, which will increase the risk of the spread of Covid-19 in the rural areas. The factors which might become act as a catalyst in the spreading of Covid-19 in rural areas are low levels of nutrition, ill-equipped, and insufficient public health centers and, lack of awareness.
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A study done by NSSO and Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation in December 2014, says “Second best option of rural household income comes from migration and daily wage labors”. The informal industry is badly affected due to lockdown caused by Covid-19, it will result in loss of rural income, as more labor will be available than the rural market can absorb. And also the migrants who are returning to their villages/hometowns could increase the risk of the spread of the virus.
Now let us discuss the impact of Covid-19 in our rural areas.
Stakeholders in rural India and roles during Covid-19
- District Administration: District administration is the face of the government in the district; all the schemes and policies coming through central government or state government are implemented via district administration. Every department of the district received guidelines from the district administration. During Covid-19, the district administration is working on the following points:
- Situation Awareness at all levels for risk assessment for making an informed and timely decision.
- Inter-Sector Coordination at all the levels and across all the departments
- Obedience to Core Capacities for disease preparedness and response which includes Hospital preparedness, Logistic Management, Risk Communication, Surveillance.
- Need-Based Approach: Since the situation is changing daily, Administration should be flexible to change the methods, rules as per the evolving scenario.
“Tackling a social calamity is not like fighting a war which works best when a leader can use top-down power to order everyone to do what the leader wants — with no need for consultation. In contrast, what is needed for dealing with a social calamity is participatory governance and alert public discussion.By Amartya Sen
- Gram Panchayats: Gram Panchayats will play a critical role at the rural level in the fight against Covid-19. Gram Panchayats are nearest to people and the trusted institution at the rural level. Gram Panchayat is a very basic example of participatory governance in India and there are more than 2,60,000 gram panchayats across India who will closely work with other stakeholders, few roles gram panchayat will play in the coming months are: Creating awareness in the society, Helping people to get livelihood and food and setup quarantine centers for suspected cases. Apart from this, gram panchayats can also work as a bridge between district administration and villagers to give information about different schemes or rules which are updating as per the national scenario.
- SHGs and NGOs: Gram Panchayats can partner with some NGOs for getting Personal Protecting Equipments (PPE) for doctors or basic masks and sanitizer for the common people. NGOs can also help the students in terms of getting classes, or NGOs can help school students in Mid-Day Meal. Self Help Groups (SHGs) can help by making a mask for the village people, SHGs can use their fund for this. NGO can develop and distribute Information, Education and, Communication (IEC) material and create awareness.
- Volunteers: Gram Panchayats can take the help of volunteers from the village to spread awareness via poems or art and craft.
- Rural Health System: At the district level, the health system is an institution in itself. It includes services of District Hospital, Primary Health Care Center (PHC), Asha Workers and, ANM. Asha Worker and ANM are direct contacts with rural populations while PHC and doctors are secondary contacts. In the Covid-19 situation, Asha Workers are ANM can spread information to the rural population and act as a bridge between villagers and administration. In the whole Covid-19 scenario Rural Health System becomes a very important part of district administration and will play an important role in the fight against Covid-19.
Effects on rural population
India is a village country, where 66% of India’s population lives with limited livelihood options and resources. Covid-19 poses various challenges to every section of the rural population who are related to various sectors. Let us understand how a various section of rural population might be affected or can get affected in future:
- Pregnant Women and Infants: There are various schemes and programs of the central government and, state governments like “Integrated Child Development Services, National Nutrition Mission (PoshanAbhiyaan), Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, which provides right to food and medicines to the target group. Due to lockdown and limited services; Food supplies, medicines and doctors are struggling to get into the interior areas of the district and all this might cause health issues.
- Schools and Students: Schools are closed due to lockdown; board exams have been postponed and, in all probability, the next session is set to get delayed. In the urban areas, schools have started online classes while this is not a case in rural areas, which again results in falling behind and cover up the syllabus might get problematic in rural areas. Apart from this, Students might be facing an issue in getting a Mid-Day Meal. Through few state governments like Kerala has started delivering Mid-Day Meal to the student’s home and a few other states are implementing this through different ways like giving dry rations. Central Government has recently allotted 958 Crore Rupees to provide Mid-Day Meal during the Summer Vacations, which is very welcome step.
- Farmers and Poultry: A majority of India’s farmers, nearly 85%, are small farmers with less than 2 hectares of land. Initially, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) had urged farmers to postpone rabi season up to 20th April 2020. But now, Government has allowed farmworkers, procurement agencies and, packaging units of fertilizers, pesticides and, seeds under the exempt category. Though exempting farmers from lockdown might support them economically but it does come with potential risk to laborers working in close proximity during the harvest time. Also, poultry business has crashed, largely due to change in food preferences towards Non-Veg which mainly caused by Fake news saying -“Eating egg and chicken can cause Covid-19” and secondly due to transportation problems during the lockdown. Impact in the poultry sector can be understood by observing egg price in Namakkal (Poultry hub of India) where the price of one egg is crashed to 1.95 Rs. Similarly, Fishers who earn through fish farming in clean water and catching the fish from the sea are also get affected due to lockdown. Tribal Communities, who earn money through collecting and selling non-timber forest produce has been badly affected. Some of the many factors which are acting as a catalyst are Labor non-availability, Market closure and, Movement restrictions. Let us see some state-specific examples which farmers of different states are facing:
- Poultry production is taking a hard hit due to Covid-19 where it is been estimated loss of 700 Crore in just 2 weeks of March. In UP, where the selling price of 1Kg of chicken is 100-150Rs/Kg but it is been sold for 20-10Rs/Kg, similarly selling price of the egg was 4-5/piece but it is being sold for 1-0.5Rs/piece. Unfortunately, Farmers are forced to kill the chickens or sell them for free because they can’t afford to feed them.
- Rural Haats and mandis in different states are facing Covid-19 heat, where either haats are being closed or they are operating with limited staff. For instance, the APMC market in Navi Mumbai has been functioning with frequent interruptions. Despite the risk of Covid infections, traders and farmers are willing to work to earn their livelihood. In Madhya Pradesh, Many mandis are get closed either due to people found positive of Covid-19 or they are not following the social distancing norms.
- Old-Age, Widow’s and Person with Disability: Old-age people, Widow’s and a person with a disability receive Government pensions in their bank accounts. But due to lockdown, people are facing problems like transport issues, specific hours of banks in money withdrawal. Due to lockdown, there is limited public transport and restriction in traveling; keeping this in mind State Bank of India also took the initiative to distribute pension amount at doorsteps.
- Water and Sanitation: It is estimated that just about 18 to 20 percent of rural households in India have connections for piped water supply. The Rest 80 percent of households are dependent on wells, rivers, or ponds and they travel daily to these places to get water for basic needs. In the Covid-19 times, where social distancing is need of an hour and maintaining that is a challenge when people travel in a group to get the water.
Role of Government & Way Ahead
The Central government and state governments are working hand in hand in this fight against the Covid-19. They have been taking steps and amending laws to curb the transmission of Covid-19 and also trying to minimize the impact of lockdown on common people. The government should acknowledge that the rural lifestyle is significantly different than urban India, thus the government should be flexible in order to implement the rules and laws.
The Central government and state governments can see this situation as a challenge and should learn various things in terms of improving the health system by increasing the health budget currently which is 1.28 percent of GDP and aimed to rise to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2025, working for holistic development migrants’ workers, finding alternatives for water and sanitation in rural areas, give more power to local bodies for example Give more rights to Village Level Organization (VLO) so that they can give more loans to the people.
As discussed, Government has taken various steps like; Giving Mid-Day Meal during vacations, giving extra raw food material to BPL cards holders, increase in a wage of MNREGA workers, Health Insurance, etc. but there is a scope for further improvement in schemes and policy.
Covid-19 India Outbreak – 1st May’2020
India reported 2,396 new Covid-19 cases taking toll of the total confirmed cases to 26,018 as of 1st May’2020. The positive news for India is jump in the recovered case by 962 with 10,021 recovered cases. The Covid-19 disease has taken 1,223 deaths in India. Among all the states the top 3 states with most number of cases are Maharashtra(11,506), Gujarat(4,721) and Gujarat(3,738).
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