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CityMakers 'locked out': India's 80% casual, 60% salaried workers out of job: Survey

By Our Representative
Findings of a telephonic-survey by interviewing 3,121 households across 50 plus cities of the country from May 7 to May 17, 2020 by scholars of the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Delhi, have suggested that eight out of 10 casual daily wage labourers and six out of 10 salaried workers reported unemployed or loss employment during lockdown due to closure of business/construction activities and inability to visit their workplaces.
Results of the survey were discussed at a webinar on May 27, 2020, in which over 500 people, including scholars from reputed international institutions, participated.
The study found that six out of 10 respondents said they were unaware that congestion was a major constraint in ensuring social distancing and hygiene practices during the lockdown and pandemic period. More than 50% of the respondents were worried about earning a livelihood and losing work and were anxious about how they would feed their families and themselves.
The study revealed that six out of 10 respondents demanded free ration after the lockdown ends, while eight out 10 respondents suggested that they would resume work after the lockdown ends, stating the current livelihood loss was a temporary phenomenon. But they agreed, much would depend to a large extent how the government, business and people responded.
Most respondents stated that the coverage of different government schemes was far from being universal and that lack of awareness and eligibility were two major impediments. Many respondents reported that they were not eligible for the programmes introduced by the government.
The study suggested key policy takeaways such need for local periodic data for pandemic preparedness and response; a new urban agenda focusing on dynamic urban planning processes and empowering the city governments; an urban job assurance programme as a longer-term policy option to address the looming economic crisis; and to plug gaps and expand public assistance programmes focusing on the rights of the CityMakers.
Speaking on the occasion, Wendy Olsen (University of Manchester, UK) said, we need an extremely localised solution for catering to the needs of the CityMakers who comprise over 140 million citizens. According to her, the need for free ration, advance wages and assured food supply for each were essential to alleviate the sufferings of the people. Insisting “a true political will”, she stressed on health insurance, basic amenities and coordination between local governments, adding, urban local bodies should be strengthened with requisite funds and local capacity.
Sandeep Chachra (Action Aid) said that while providing immediate solutions the long outstanding call of informal workers, decent wages and workers’ rights should not be diluted, especially because these rights were gained following years of labour struggles. He asserted, labour laws cannot go to abeyance, neither should one undermined social security and protection.
Prof Ruth Steiner (University of Florida, USA) said, “A large section of Indian population is usually ignored from the policy challenges when a nation is shutdown. How do we take note of the way they meet their basic amenities. We need to understand the importance of public transport to access goods and services, draw lessons for the future”. 
Eight out 10 respondents said they would resume work after the lockdown ends, that the current livelihood loss was temporary
IMPRI senior faculty Dr Arjun Kumar said, “Government programmes like the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana are being harnessed to provide intermittent relief to the poor. However, per person allocation of monetary support is very low, and for schemes like 'Thalinomics’ (for ensuring a balanced diet) to succeed, assured assistance of around Rs 2,000 is needed. It is expected from the government to act as the guardian and ensure that welfare schemes become accessible for all.”
IMPRI scholars Dr Balwant Singh Mehta and Dr Simi Mehta, the study coordinators, said, “The study findings show that urban informal worker was mainly engaged in low paid casual daily wage work and self-employment activities such as street vendors, and only a few involved in salaried jobs. Therefore, the lockdown has a huge impact on their livelihood as six out of 10 workers have lost their livelihood.”
However, they noted, “The most interesting part is over three-fourths of them reported that they will resume the work once the lockdown will be lifted. The study clearly demonstrates that prolonged lockdown has badly disrupted the livelihood of urban informal workers. Therefore, in case of any such adversity in future, adequate measures need to be kept handy.”
The two scholars added, “Relief measures must be provided on a war footing keeping in mind the prevailing realities and understanding how stressful the situation becomes for all, especially the lives and livelihood of the CityMakers.”
Assistant coordinators and senior researchers Anshula Mehta and Ritika Gupta (IMPRI) remarked that the study reflects “unprecedented sufferings, anxieties and perceptions of the CityMakers during Covid-19 and lockdown in a candid manner. It reveals ground-level stories and realities not captured in any other survey. The study presents ample scope for taking corrective measures through evidence-based governance in both short and the long term.”
Other major participants in the webinar included well-known scholars like Prof Chris Silver and Dr Abhinav Alakshendram (University of Florida, USA), and IMPRI faculty Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhay and Visva Bharati.

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