Opinion

Lockdown takes a heavy toll on Kerala households

Surajit Das/Soni TL | Updated on September 16, 2020 Published on September 16, 2020

While the State has tackled the Covid crisis effectively, the accompanying lockdown has hit incomes, jobs and increased the indebtedness of the households

Kerala is fighting the Covid-19 challenge more efficiently than not only other States but also many other countries. Kerala’s success is a result of improved and affordable health infrastructure, effective decentralisation and community participation, efficient planning, and the humane approach adopted by the State government.

However, that does not mean that the people of Kerala did not suffer from the lockdown. It is important to highlight the fact that despite flattening the coronavirus curve successfully, Keralites suffered from income loss, indebtedness and job uncertainty due to the lockdown. We reached out to 480 families, comprising 2,056 people, in Kerala over telephone in July, to understand the ground reality. Our sample is definitely not representative of the entire population of Kerala, however the telephonic survey will help us understand the situation to some extent.

Fifty-nine per cent the households in our sample reported an increase in indebtedness due to the lockdown. Income decreased for 85 per cent of the families and fell to less than half for 60 per cent in the months of April, May and June as compared to the pre-lockdown income.

Around 80 per cent of the families didn’t receive any money in their Jan-Dhan accounts and 95 per cent of them are yet to receive free cooking gas cylinders even after more than three months of the announcement of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). As high as 70 per cent of the respondents want to be a part of the universal employment guarantee scheme, but only 10 per cent of them have a job-card as of now. Employment opportunity and cash transfers are their two most important demands. The government must pay attention to these under the current unprecedented distress.

There were 135 female and 345 male respondents aged between 18 and 75 years in our sample. Ninety respondents were school drop-outs, 153 completed 10th standard, 97 finished their 12th, 86 were graduates, 30 professionally qualified, and 24 respondents had post-graduation and above qualification.

The sample had 50 Muslim families, 89 Christian families, 334 Hindu families and seven from other backgrounds. There were five Scheduled Tribe households, 56 Scheduled Caste housholds, 258 from Other Backward Caste (OBC), and the balance 159 households were from other or no-caste backgrounds.

Diverse occupations

The respondents were from diverse occupational backgrounds — mechanics, accountant, anganwadi workers, autorickshaw drivers, government employees, private sector employees, business persons, carpenters, coolie, daily wage earners, drivers, electricians, farmers, fishermen, teachers, home makers, hotel employees, domestic help, factory workers, managers, nurses, house painting workers, shop keepers, sales girls and boys, tailors, toddy tappers, temple employees, welders, vegetable vendors and so on and so forth.

There were nine NRI families from Dubai, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman, Riyadh, Lebanon and Muscat. And there were eight migrant families from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh, among others, in our sample.

The average monthly income of these 480 households was around ₹20,500 before the lockdown. The monthly per capita income of a quarter of the families was less than ₹1,875, for another 25 per cent it was ₹1,875 to less than ₹3,750, it ranged from ₹3,750 to ₹6,000 for one-fourth of the families, and for the rest it was in the above ₹6,000 to ₹80,000range.

The average monthly income of these sample families has almost halved (53 per cent) because of the lockdown. Only 72 families out of the 480 (15 per cent) could retain their income during the months of April, May and June. As many as 60 families reported zero income during the lockdown and for 287 households (60 per cent), the monthly income has by half or lower due to the lockdown.

As many as 280 of the 480 (59 per cent) families saw increased indebtedness due to the lockdown — the others could manage with their past savings. Almost 70 per cent of the respondents want an urban employment guarantee scheme. It must be mentioned that Kerala already has an urban employment guarantee scheme — Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Programme — along with the MGNREGS (for rural areas), in place. However, less than 10 per cent of the respondents in our sample had job-cards of the employment guarantee scheme, and 70 per cent of them are demanding it specially in urban areas. So, this is an area where the government has to pay more attention.

Implementation of schemes

As far as the promises made by the Central government (in PMGKY) in March is concerned, households were supposed to get free ration, free gas cylinders and ₹500 per month in their Jan-Dhan accounts. Because of the efficient public distribution system (PDS) in Kerala, 97 per cent of the families in our sample got free ration during the lockdown. However, only 17 per cent of the respondents received the cash transfer and less than 4 per cent families got free cooking gas cylinders during April, May and June. Therefore, the government has to pay more attention to the implementation of already announced schemes apart from the distribution of foodgrains through the fair-price shops.

Out of the 480 families, 120 (25 per cent) had some patient in the family, apart from the Covid afflicted ones, and more than half of them faced difficulties in their treatments due to the lockdown. Around a third of the respondents said that staying at home during the lockdown was not comfortable due to various reasons.

Almost 80 per cent of the respondents are expecting their average monthly income to fall from their pre-lockdown levels in the coming six months. So, there is extreme job insecurity and income vulnerability in people’s minds. The government must provide some assurance to give them confidence. Many of the respondents were appreciative of the role played by the Kerala government during this difficult time. However, after the recent arrival of non-residential Keralites, the situation has become more challenging.

Key suggestions

The key feedback coming from the ground is that most of the people want creation of more employment opportunities, including for the pravasis.

Compensation of at least ₹7,500/month for job-loss, regulating the prices of necessities, particularly petrol products, and waiving electricity bill payments are among the other major demands.

With incomes falling during the lockdown, paying EMIs has become a real problem. There is also the demand for interest-free loan during the ongoing crisis. To protect the lives and livelihoods of the poorer sections of the population, there is a suggestion not to restrict the benefits only to BPL families. It is hoped the policy-makers would take note of the issues and try to address them sooner than the later.

Surajit Das is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, and Soni is Assistant Professor of Economics at the Sri C Achutha Menon Govt College, Thrissur

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Published on September 16, 2020
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