The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic entailed an urgent and proactive response from Indian policymakers. To support the formulation and implementation of effective and evidence-informed relief programmes, the World Bank in collaboration with IDinsight and the Development Data Lab sought to produce rigorous and responsive data for policymakers through rapid-response phone surveys across six states in India: Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. This report presents the findings of the three-round survey on agriculture, income and consumption, labour and migration, access to relief programmes, and healthcare.
There is no doubt that effects of COVID-19 will continue to constrain India’s rural economy in the short to medium term, with labour force participation, wages and consumption in September 2020 persisting below pre-lockdown levels earlier in that year. In this context, the near-universal provision of relief points to the critical role played by Government of India in mitigating the effects of the pandemic, while facilitating a gradual economic recovery.
The agriculture sector has shown resilience despite the many challenges of the pandemic, including supply chain disruptions and mobility restrictions that impacted labour and input availability. With schemes like PM KISAN poised to spur growth in investment and expenditure in agriculture, the government has the opportunity and platform to introduce similar policy instruments to effectively target relief and accelerate growth in rural communities. There is also need for interventions that support climate-resilient and resource-efficient food systems.
The pandemic has also demonstrated the strength of India’s growing Self-Help Group network (supported by MoRD under DAY-NRLM) in providing its members better access to relief and government welfare programmes. As India continues to deal with the fallout of the pandemic and a contracting economy, this network is likely to be leveraged in the future to improve the efficiency and service delivery of government programmes.
The importance of these safety nets is especially pertinent in light of the persistent distress faced by India’s reverse migrants, who are struggling to find work in their villages and do not have access to the same level of social protection as other rural residents. In such an employment environment, migrant-specific programmes like the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyaan, have the potential to substantially address the unmet needs of this population. Non-farm rural development is also a critical complementary agenda with the potential to generate alternate livelihoods and overcome labour market pressures in rural economies.
The pandemic has demonstrated the need to invest in new technologies and methods of data collection. While phone surveys have proven to be invaluable in providing data on a rapidly evolving situation, their results must be interpreted carefully given the differences between phone-owners/responders and non-owners/non-respondents—and their responses. Alongside innovations in rapid data collection, there is need for concerted efforts to strengthen government administrative data systems and capacity to be able to support evidence-informed, rapid policy response.
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