Unorganized Sector and the Covid-19
March 24, 2020 will be marked in the annals of history as the day when the entire nation came to a standstill, owing to the lockdown announced by our Hon’ble Prime Minister. The lockdown has disproportionately more adverse impact on the people in the informal sector who are either on contract/ casual wage or on daily wages. In 2018, only 50% of the Indian population participated in the labor force, out of which 86% were employed in the informal sector, also known as the unorganized sector or the shadow economy. This figure is even higher for Bihar, standing at 92%. Jamui, in south Bihar, is one of the most backward districts of the country. The district is annually hit by drought which worsens the condition of people. The employment opportunity in the organized sector in the district is minimal. Thus, most of the workforce is employed on casual, contract or daily wages. With limited opportunities, the workers migrate to different states in search of employment. The district features in the bottom in most of the socio-economic indicators. To improve the condition of the district, the government of India has included it in the Aspirational District Programme introduced in 2017.
The unorganized sector is the hardest hit due to the sudden announcement of lockdown. This robbed daily wage earners of their income and left them stranded within and outside the district. Those who had migrated for better opportunities to other states were left with no option but to return. Inter-State transport, railways etc. all were suspended which left many people stranded from Bihar and UP at Anand Vihar terminal in New Delhi on 24th March. The decision by the Delhi government to repatriate these labourers led to the sudden inflow of migrant labour in Bihar in general and Jamui in particular. Approximately 8000 people have arrived in Jamui since 22nd of March. With no means to sustain their livelihood, they are totally dependent on the district administration.
Prompt Response of District Administration, Jamui
To reduce the plight of these workers, Jamui district administration reached out to the marginalized sections of the society without delay. Distribution of ration-kits was started by the district administration by identifying the worst hit people such as rickshaw pullers, families residing in temporary shelters on the outskirts, differently abled, elderly etc. A wave of calls followed to the District Magistrate (DM), Superintendent of Police (SP), Deputy Development Commissioner (DDC), Sub divisional Officer (SDO), Block Development Officer (BDOs) and other officers as the lockdown was announced. A 24×7 call center was established and staffed by 6 people per shift along with a nodal officer. Calls were registered under two heads: Aapda (disaster) and Aapurti (supply) related issues. Aapdawas to record calls from people who shared information about the inflow of migrant workers in their village, non-resident laborer’s of Jamui stranded elsewhere and a few on availability of masks and sanitizers. Aapurti recorded issues related to people in distress who enquired about ration distribution or sought help to feed themselves and their families. An average of 20 calls a day were recorded under Aapurti who sought relief in the form of ration, cooked meal etc. Immediate action was taken by directing the complaint to the concerned officer. A follow up of the complaint was recorded on a daily basis until resolved and a report was presented. This helped feed all those families who were struggling.
As the time passed and people became more aware of the help that was being provided by district administration, people also stated directly calling DM, SP and DDC, who were available 24*7 to listen to their concerns. Prabha Devi, a 70-year-old widow residing in Khairma village of Jamui was left with no food as her son lost any scope of work. Her story caught DMs eye through social media platforms and the next thing that happened was that DM and SP were at her door with food supplies. The DM stated that “no person will be allowed to sleep hungry” and that “such people reach out to the administration or give information of people who have been left stranded.” Rapid response of the administration helped cater to all the calls that were received personally or at the call center and relief was sent to them in the form of ration supplies.
Benevolent Role by Police Department, Jamui
Police department has always been picturized as not being people friendly and accused of lacking compassion. But during these tough times, they came forward to help the poor and ensured that no one goes to bed empty stomach. They made sure that the food kit gets distributed to the poor residing at any nook and corner of the district. The most backward blocks and villages of Jamui were covered by them. The police department targeted villages and communities that were backward which included mostly tribal and scheduled castes who are dependent on Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) and other daily wage activities. “I make sure I deliver service demanded by all the people who call me, or I receive information about” – Superintendent of Police (SP), Jamui. The Police Department of Jamui has covered 5,500 families for relief and is still counting. For this purpose, they have tried their best and have crowdfunded to help poor people overcome this crisis.
Health sector is already clouded with many challenges from infrastructure to HR. Being a doctor himself, he (SP) understands how Covid-19 has sabotaged all other health services. SP has made two of his vehicles available as ambulances during these tough times for delivery of other health services (emergencies, child deliveries etc.) Act of kindness by the police department has further strengthened belief in humanity and given us the confidence that together we will be able to overcome this crisis. The human race has survived World Wars and gone through the darkest of times, emerging victorious every time. This one would be no exception as well.
Role of Self-Help Group Federations and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)
“Bhaiya jb halla huwa ki kl sai sb market band hojaiega tb hum appni beti ka jewer sonar Ke yahan 6000 mai rakh Kai hum bhi ghr mai saman lakaie bhar liya.” (When she heard the news of the lockdown, she went to a jewellery shop and gave the jewellery belonging to her daughter. The jeweller gave her Rs 6000 for it) – Reshma Praveen, a woman residing in a village narrated her story. When asked about the rate of interest she responded promptly: “bhaiya 100 rupees mai 3 takka hr mhine jayda lega” (She will have to give an interest rate of 3 per cent per month i.e, 36% per annum).
In order to reduce such plight of the families, Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society (BRLPS) has announced interest free loans to women of Self-Help Group (SHG) for three months to aid them during these distressed times for purchase of essential commodities. This covers a total of 16,000 SHGs in Jamui covering 1,92,000 households. A Food Security Fund of INR 1,00,00 has been granted to 551 Village Organization (VOs) (federation of all SHGs in a village) to further fill the gap. This has helped VOs cover poor families of the village by providing them food security. Additionally, INR 2,000 have been given cash of 805 women beneficiaries who belong to extremely poor families who may or may not be part of any SHG under Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana.
Efforts of civil society organizations in Jamui deserve a mention as well. Their close association with communities has helped in identification of people from the communities who are most needy. They have raised funds and sought support from CSR for distributing relief material. A total of 1,800 kits have been distributed in three blocks by the organizations with the help of their funding organizations. They are constantly making efforts to reach out to more and more people.
Tough Road Ahead
Jamui district administration has left no stone unturned in minimizing the impact of Covid-19 specially to the most vulnerable sections of the society. It has reached out to people within and outside the district to provide relief to them. It has tried to identify “most-in-need” people by prioritizing households that will be left out by other relief funds or rations given to Priority Household (PHH) cardholders. Immediate relief has been provided to all who have reached out. The administration is also serving cooked food for people who have been left stranded in Jamui while travelling back to their homes. The battle against Corona is going to be a long one even when the lockdown is over. The task of the administration will be humongous to counter the impact of Covid-19. They would need to ensure that there is meaningful work for every hand, food for every mouth, spark in every eye and joy in every soul. An economic standstill has cost millions of workers to lose their job and now the govt. and the policymakers have to be creative to prevent the situation from getting out of hand. It should be kept in mind that even though Covid-19 infection is a health hazard, the lockdown it entails has economic repercussions.