Covid pushes families in MP into debt as economic crisis deepens

Bhopal: The second wave of Covid-19 has hit the people of Madhya Pradesh hard, with thousands losing their lives.

The misery has not stopped though for millions of citizens in the state who now find themselves neck-deep in debt due to expenses borne during the pandemic as well as loss of jobs and income.

The deepening economic crisis has devastated farmers, laborers and the middle class people alike with families barely surviving with money from mortgage of ornaments or high interest loans taken from moneylenders.

“I was admitted for 11 days in a private hospital in Indore. My family members got the treatment done with financial help from other relatives and acquaintances. After recovery I returned all that by taking a loan of one and a half lakh rupees from moneylenders at 3% interest” says Kaushal Goswami* of Kasrawad village of Barwani district.

COVID Response Watch LogoThe interest on the loans is steadily increasing ever since and Kaushal, the only earning member of the family, gets only Rs. 11,000 per month working in a private company. In order to repay the loan he may have to sell  some of the 4 acres of agricultural land he and his parents own.

He has also taken a loan of 80 thousand rupees, using the land as collateral, from a government sponsored zero percent interest scheme. Since he has not been paying his premiums on time, penalties and interest charges are likely to be levied. Kaushal claims that three people from his debt-ridden village have had to sell their land.

“I have taken so much debt that I am not in a position to take it again, no one is even ready to give more. I am always tired and  even my body is not cooperating. Thinking about how the debt will be repaid gives a headache” says Kaushal. If this situation continues, there will be no option but to die, he says in a very matter-of-fact manner.

In the neighbouring district of Dhar 42 year old Dharmendra Singh* and his family members are similarly struggling to survive. He and his younger brother are the only earners in the 10 member house, with a monthly expenditure is Rs 15,000. Since the first wave of Covid, till now, two and a half lakh rupees have been taken as loans at 3 percent interest per month.

Dharmendra’s younger brother’s shop has been closed since the Covid pandemic started early last year.  Following the relaxation of the lockdown by the government, the brother’s shop re-opened recently but the sales are not enough to even recover investments.

‘Running a family has become difficult and our home expenses have been cut. The family survives on our meagre wages and through the  loans we have taken,” says Dharmendra.

The people in Nisarpur village, where Dharmendra lives, were already grappling with the problem of land submergence due to construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam as well as land acquisition for the colonies to be set up for the displaced populations. Over 12 acres of local land has been forcibly acquired by the government to set up the colonies, with very little compensation given to land owners.

“The difficulties for the people here have doubled due to the impact of Covid”  says Dharmendra Singh.

Yet another case study in indebtedness due to Covid is that of Chandan Kumar of Bhopal, who lost his mother in the second wave of the pandemic. He says that he had admitted her to a private hospital in the city, which presented a bill of 75 thousand rupees in a day or two, for providing oxygen alone. The rest of the expenditure came to Rs. 2.5 lakhs. When the money ran out, she had to be admitted to Hamidia, the biggest government hospital in Bhopal.

The treatment lasted for 22 days. Eventually Chandan’s mother passed away, but the debt burden from hospital expenses continues to mount. Chandan used to earn 10 to 12 thousand rupees a month by working in the electronic media. That work has also been left behind after having to run around seeking treatment for his mother. Now no work is on hand at the moment.

The relatives and acquaintances who had given loans have been persuaded to wait  for a few days more, but the amount of interest on the money borrowed from two local traders is increasing continuously. The loan of 1.5 lakh rupees came with an interest rate of 6 percent per month.

The stories of Kaushal Goswami of Barwani, Dharmendra Singh of Dhar and Chandan Kumar of Bhopal are just a few examples of the condition of hundreds of people around the state. For most of them, it will be impossible to get back to any kind of normal life without support from the state or central governments.

During both the first and second waves of Covid the government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan had announced a compensation of one lakh rupees to families of those who died. There is no sign though of that amount coming through to many of those, like Chandan Kumar, who need it.

For the foreseeable future it seems, the Damocles sword of debt will continue to hang over their heads, adding to the terror of living in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

Ashok Kapse is a freelance journalist based in Bhopal

*Name changed

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