Why Deprivation Levels May Be Getting Extremely Serious in India

coronavirus lockdown

Eminent economist Jean Dreze recently stated in an  interview to  PTI that India might be heading towards a serious livelihood crisis as the situation seems to be worse this time for the working class amid the COVID crisis and local restrictions by states already add up to something close to a nationwide lockdown.

A related aspect is that in terms of deprivation of basic needs the situation is fast deteriorating and this year it is worse than before. An important factor to be considered is that a majority of households in the country have very low reserves to fall back upon . During the first year of sudden prolonged unemployment and loss of income, they could draw upon these limited reserves to keep away the worst forms of deprivation to some extent. Even then this may not have been possible for everyone  but still the limited reserves which some people had along with the spirit of  mutual help among people  played a useful role.

However  the crisis turned out to be rather prolonged the people exhausted their limited reserves all too soon. In addition several of them had to arrange loans for arranging for medical care and transport, including transport of near and dear ones who had been stranded at various places. Hence both their limited reserves as well as the limited ability to borrow from known sources has been exhausted by now, in the case of most households from weaker sections. There was never enough of a revival for most to  try to build up new reserves.

It is in this context that the emerging situation now should be seen, with many local lockouts getting extended, workers again going back to villages in situations of great uncertainty, important sources of livelihood like construction, small manufacturing and informal services, travel, hospitality and domestic work coming to near standstill in many places.

In addition there are increasing difficulties caused by increasing prices of many essential goods and services like edible oils, vegetables and pulses, medical services/medicines, with black market rates being charged even for routine fever medicines and equipments like oximeters. Incidentally the increasing prices common people have to pay are generally not reflected in official inflation data due to various reasons. The increasing price of diesel and petrol is proving to be a contributing cause for rise in the price of various essential commodities by contributing to the increase in transport cost.

Last but not the least, no big relief package has been announced recently at the government level at the time of writing. While the need for this is definitely there at a high level, the likelihood now appears to be less than at the time of a national lockdown. The finances of several state governments are in a precarious condition already.

Hence the combined result of these four factors for weaker sections and common people should be considered–firstly rising livelihood loss and decreasing income, secondly depleted reserves and increasing debts ( including increased interest payments) , thirdly rising price of many essential goods and services and fourthly, lesser government support.

All this adds up to a very serious situation and the deprivation faced in terms of denial of essential goods and services may be heading fast for alarming levels in India, increasing hunger and malnutrition being one ( but only one) important aspect of this many-sided deprivation. This is also likely to result in higher mortality.

There is urgent need for recognizing this escalating serious crisis of deprivation and for initiating adequate relief and other remedial measures based on this recognition.

Bharat Dogra is a  journalist and author. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met ( freedom movement of India)and Earth Without  Borders.



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