The impact of the crisis for India is expected to be much more severe than imagined. The economy which was already shrinking is now further compounded with other problems like malnutrition, unemployment, rural distress, public health and so on. Informal sector labor which is at least 422 million in number are at great risk.
Good news is that the government has started a special train as a most humanitarian gesture but it has a severe implication for a country where cases are witnessing a significant rise everyday despite the lockdown. Firstly, they can spread coronavirus from areas where they worked to rural areas, which do not have enough hospitals, quarantine and testing facilities. Secondly, India’s growth largely depends on the service of migrant workers and bringing them back after the crisis would be a real challenge. Given the unprecedented hardship faced by the workers, most of them are scared to return to the urban sectors of work. Although in some sectors, operations resumed after 20th April but still some companies are reporting continuous labor shortage. Thirdly, returning migrants to their home also has a direct effect on the state education and health system. This represents an important concern for states like Bihar which is home to India’s second highest migration population and is anticipated to be hit badly due to reverse migration.
The pandemic has brought a sharp impact on the “Digital Underclass” or the informal workers. This includes delivery workers, grocery workers, construction workers, farmers, sanitation workers, etc. Clearly, it’s time to treat the current problem beyond economic crisis and understand that problem has a long-lasting impact on the survival of different industries and migration of labor. The government is required to adopt innovative policies which must be seen as a mix of debt relief, rent moratorium and temporary work assignments for newly jobless workers. Access to social welfare programmes by unregulated workers can serve a purpose to reduce the level of current stress and build some sense of confidence in workers. The government must ensure that relief packages reach non-registered citizens through social security schemes. In this way, the Centre’s recent step of online registration of informal workers seems crucial to extend the safety net to the uncovered workers. The Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, while addressing the current pandemic issues, also offered a wide range of suggestions for the country to absorb the shock. He asserted for “putting money in people’s hands so that they can buy goods is the easiest way to revive the demand and economy. Because then MSME people get money to spend and it has a usual Keynesian Chain reaction.”
The government should focus on developing strategies which can solve four key issues simultaneously. The four key dimensions are:
1) Supporting Enterprise and SME.
2) Generating employment, income & jobs.
3) Protecting current workers and
4) Increasing the interaction between government, employers and workers.
For decades, technologies have always come up as a boon to us. During this crisis, many countries are effectively using digital tools like mobile applications and artificial intelligence to trace the infection. However, to better prepare ourselves for the future, the Centre should concentrate on developing innovative solutions, particularly in the health and education systems. Collaboration with international agencies in the area of revolution of technology can foster the recovery from the virus. Last but not the least, it’s high time to recognize the contribution of the “Invisible Segment” in making a “Visible India.” We all need to understand that the choices we make will affect the way the crisis unfolds. Only with the right measures, can we limit the impact.
Continued from – “Digital Underclass” at risk: Plight of Informal Labours – Part 2
Photo is Wikimedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
Dr. Neha Nainwal
Dr. Neha Nainwal is an Assistant Professor at University of Delhi. She has teaching experience of more than seven years. She received her P.HD in commerce from Delhi school of economics, University of Delhi. Her primary specialization was Development economics and her secondary specialization involves financial inclusion, Agriculture and labor. She also authored more than ten research papers and presented papers in many international and national conferences. She also worked as a content writer for than 20 modules for HRD Ministry project “E- PG pathsala”. She has also authored various article for many national level magazine.