By Robin Gomes
“80 percent of the small and marginal farmers said that their income is reduced after Covid-19 outbreak,” says research conducted by Caritas India in 18 different states of the country.
In an online meeting on 6 June 2020, Caritas India shared the results of its two studies on internal migrants and small and marginal farmers during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The meeting was attended by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, the President of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the Presidents of the Regional Bishops’ Councils, and Forum Directors across India.
The pandemic lockdown has created an unprecedented situation, which has impacted every section of society, with migrants and small farming communities paying a heavy price.
The loss of livelihood was very tangible not only in urban areas but also in rural areas during the lockdown, with serious implications on people's lives.
The Caritas India study showed that as much as 95.2 percent of migrants surveyed lost the means of their livelihood. Around 10.6 percent have lost a family member in the pandemic.
When the Indian government ordered a nationwide lockdown on March 24 to prevent the spread of Covid-19, millions of daily wage earners, many of them migrants, were suddenly caught off-guard without any livelihood, food and shelter.
States such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the main sources of migrants who are mostly employed in construction, factories, domestic work, textiles, brick kilns, transportation and agriculture.
Caritas India presented the rapid research on distressed migrants to gauge the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on the livelihood of the migrant community. The study focused on basic needs, livelihood, the rights and entitlements, discrimination and exploitation of migrants.
The study was conducted in the 10 most impacted states of India - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Assam.
Figures show that 28.7 percent of migrants do not want to return to the cities. 32.1 percent expressed willingness to return when the situation is back to normal, while other 31.3 percent are undecided.
The education of migrant children has also been hit hard, with around 46.4 percent forced to discontinue their studies.
Under the government’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), only a meagre 6 percent could find employment, whereas 37.8 percent were disqualified because of the lack of job cards.
In another rapid survey, Caritas India presented the impact of Covid-19 on the smallholder farming sector. With the income of 80.4 percent of farmers reduced drastically, they are faced with a very grim upcoming harvest season. Already under the burden of heavy loss in the past season, they dread investing in the next.
Around 424 farmers were contacted for this research across 18 states through 45 diocesan partners. The study focused on the impact of the pandemic on agricultural production, distribution, availability of food and nutrition, income generation and expenses.
The study revealed only 55.4 percent of the affected farmers received support from both the government and NGOs, whereas 9.4 percent have not.
Food insecurity among smallholder farmers is high with 49 percent of the households surveyed saying they have limited food stocks and 16.5 percent skipped a meal in the last 10 days because of food shortage.
Road accidents kill migrants
Meanwhile, a separate study by an NGO has revealed that nearly 200 stranded migrant workers have been killed in their desperate bid to return home under the Covid-19 lockdown.
SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF), which focuses on improving road safety and emergency medical care across India, said there were at least 1,461 accidents between March 25 and May 31, killing at least 750 people including 198 migrant workers.
With all transport shut down, the exodus of migrant workers from several states during the lockdown has become a humanitarian crisis, with thousands walking on roads and railway tracks to reach their homes hundreds of kilometres away.
Out of the four-phase lockdown, phase four was the deadliest overall in terms of road deaths with 322 fatalities (43 percent), and phase three was the deadliest in particular for migrant workers.