Introduction– Although Macroeconomic Indicators are showing an improvement but rural India shows a different reality. Pandemic has only heightened the problems faced by people of hinterland.
What are the issues facing rural India as an effect of pandemic and what are their implications?
1) Declining rural wages:
Real wages in Rural areas are declining along with rising input prices of fertilizer and diesel. Workers are struggling to get work even for 15 days a month and even if they find some, the wage paid is significantly lower than the minimum wages for informal workers.
Unavailability of work under MGNREGA: Funds allocated to MGNREGA have been even lower than last year. People were already facing problem in getting work under MGNREGA due to heightened demand after pandemic and involvement of local politics which show bias for some beneficiaries. Less allocation of funds only compounds the problem.
Implications– Due to declining real wages and farm income, demand in rural areas is collapsing. This fall in income forces families to sell ration they get under scheme to buy other necessary consumables like oil, spices, etc. to meet their other essential demands
2) Food Security
Non-Functioning anganwadis – Many anganwadis are shut since pandemic and many of opened anganwadis have no proper clean spaces, no well-maintained toilets, no water connection and they also don’t provide cooked meals (which is a violation of ICDS which mandates providing cooked meals to all children in the age group of 0-6 years).
Beneficiaries left out of the NFSA– Some beneficiaries (some of whom are landless and are daily wagers) complain of being left out of the NFSA Beneficiaries list. It deprived them of the additional 5 kg of free grains supplied per person per month towards pandemic assistance.
Implications – This often translated into lack of nutritious food, recently released National Family Health Survey (2019-21) show that more than a third of children in rural India continue to be underweight (low weight for age). This is also impacting the nutrition status of poor households.
Although Government schools are seeing increased enrollment recently but they face some challenges like lack of funds for mid-day meals, etc.
Implications– This may widen the knowledge gap that has arisen in the pandemic due to Prolonged shutdown of schools.
This is a direct consequence of the inadequate safety net amid pandemic-induced joblessness and pitifully low wages. This can lead to a vicious cycle: low demand leading to lower wages, which, in turn, leads to lower incomes and a further slide in demand.
Source– This post is based on the article “Poverty and Hunger stalk Indias countryside” published in Live mint on 12th Dec 2021.