A survey in Kerala highlighted the distress faced by the people during the lockdown in spite of the best efforts of the Kerala government.
According to a report by Workers Unity, the survey was conducted by Surajit Das and Soni T.L, who tried to reach 2056 people from 480 families via telephone.
Kerala has been fighting the COVID-19 crisis more efficiently than not only the other states of India but also other countries of the world. The state’s relative success is a result of a better public healthcare system, effective decentralisation, community participation, planning, and perhaps most importantly, the pro-poor and humanist approach of the Left Democratic Front government.
However, the people of Kerala have still been troubled by the loss of income, burden of debt, and uncertainty of livelihood caused by the nationwide lockdown.
While the sample of this Kerala lockdown survey is not representative of the population, it does give some important insights.
Out of the respondents, 50 families were Muslims, 89 were Christians, 334 were Hindus, and 7 families were from other backgrounds. 5 families were from Scheduled Tribes (ST), 56 from Scheduled Castes (SC), 258 from Other Backward Classes (OBC) and the remaining 159 households from other caste backgrounds.
There were 135 female and 345 male respondents in the sample, whose ages ranged between 13 and 35 years, and they came from varied employment backgrounds.
The sample can be divided into four equal sections, where the average monthly income per person of the households in each section was below Rs 1875, between Rs 1875 to Rs 3775, between Rs 3750 to Rs 6000, and between Rs 6000 to Rs 80,000 respectively.
Unemployment, Debt, and Loss of Income
Out of these respondents, 59% households reported an increase in their debt during the lockdown, and 85% households reported a reduced income. For 60% of households, their income in the months of April, May, and June is less than half of pre-lockdown income.
More than 80% households did not receive any financial assistance in their Jan Dhan accounts to which cash transfers of Rs 500 had been promised, and more than 95% did not receive any free LPG cylinders even 3 months after the announcement of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana that free gas cylinders would be given to Ujjwala beneficiaries.
70% of the respondents expressed the need for a universal employment guarantee scheme but only 10% of them had a job card. Employment opportunities and cash transfers were two prominent demands amongst the respondents.
About 80% of respondents expected their average monthly income to be lower than pre-lockdown income in the coming six months.
What The Government Needs to Do
The survey shows the extreme insecurity and distress in the minds of the people regarding employment. The government must give some assurance to the people and address the uncertainty.
The researchers who conducted the survey have given a few suggestions to the government based on the responses. Firstly, most people are urging the government to create more employment opportunities, including the return migrants. There is also a need for financial assistance to families with below taxable income, and unemployment assistance of at least Rs 7,500 per month.
Prices for essential commodities and especially of petrol products need to be regulated, and the government should provide a waiver on the electricity bills. The government should also create the provision of interest-free loans during this crisis as paying EMIs during lockdown is extremely difficult with the loss of unemployment and income.