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The Socio-Economic Implications of COVID-19 on Rural Population in India

The COVID-19 Pandemic has reached the phase of community spread. Doctors, healthcare workers, paramedics, nurses, and police force are the frontline warriors who are working tirelessly to combat the impact of COVID-19. In India, the impact of COVID-19 Pandemic has emphasized on the inadequate coordination between the Central and the State Government as one of the reasons leading to inadequate implementation of relief measures and delayed response mechanisms for rural-marginalized groups during the lockdown.


PLIGHT OF THE POOR MIGRANT WORKERS

Thousands of poor migrant workers whose livelihoods have distorted due to India's coronavirus measures went back to their villages, raising suspicions that the migration could carry the virus to the countryside. In the case of Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India,[1], a question was raised in a public interest litigation in which writ petition highlighted the migration of thousand migrant workers who, along with their families, were travelling hundreds of kilometres to their villages and towns during the pandemic of COVID-19.


These migrant workers were stranded without any means of transportation and forced to remain as detainees in the midland. The Hon’ble Supreme Court gave the judgement in the case of Nagreeka Exports Ltd and others Vs. Union of India,[2], mandating payment of wages to industrial workers are clear violation of the rights of a private organization to carry on any trade, occupation or business enshrined under Articles 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution, thereby classifying such orders and guidelines as illegal, unreasonable and contrary to the provisions of law. Though the stringent measures during the lock down are important to restrict the spread of virus. But insufficient planning and inadequate protections had serious impacts on the human rights of the marginalized section of the society.


These include rights to health, food, adequate housing, and right to live with dignity. The most severely affected people by the lockdown are daily wage workers, migrant workers, landless and homeless people, agricultural labourers, and others who are employed in the informal sector. The pandemic has exposed gaps in social security systems, especially with respect to public healthcare, adequate housing, and social security. Although, the government is trying its best to prevent the spread of coronavirus throughout the country, but still the situation in India is getting worse with time.


STATISTICAL STUDY OF THE MATTER

The Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) scanned the health infrastructure data and statistics and found that even if 0.03% of the rural population is hit by coronavirus, the government hospitals would run out of beds in rural India. In other words, if 70% of the rural population gets affected by coronavirus, then only 36% of the population might get access to government hospital beds. Thus, the urban-rural division can be clearly seen from the above scenario[3].


Moreover, in India, there is one bed for every 1700 people in urban areas (both public and private hospitals), and in rural India, there is only one bed for every 3100 people.Similarly, the availability of doctors portrays the similar situation of rural India. There is only one doctor available for 26,000 people in rural India. The case is worst in rural areas of West Bengal, where there is availability of roughly 881 doctors for a population of 6.2 crore. The most affected places with respect to lack of availability of doctors are West Bengal followed by Jharkhand and Bihar[4].


RESPONSE OF THE GOVERNMENT

Previously, the Central Government has implemented several schemes/acts for the welfare of domestic workers, migrant workers, unemployed people, etc. One of such schemes is Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna, the main aim was to bring domestic workers within the ambit of this scheme and to provide them adequate medical benefits[5]. Moreover, in the case of National Campaign Committee on Construction Labour v. Union of India and Ors,[6], wherein the Supreme Court directed for implementation of various schemes addressing health, education, social security, old age, and other benefits.


But still, the enactment and implementation of such welfare schemes and legislations is far gone from reality, especially during the time of COVID-19. Although, many states in India such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujrat, Madhya Pradesh, etc. failed in implementing these welfare legislations and therefore, deprived the citizens from their fundamental right and leaving them at the mercy of their employers when the entire country is reckoned by the attack of COVID-19. It is expected that both the Central and State Government will come up with concrete plans in providing “income security” and “medical security” to these poor workers and for this, the Government will require a huge amount of funds.


There have been case of abuse of legislative power through ordinances of labour laws. For instance, in Sarva Hara Jan Andolan case,2020,[7], a Public Interest Litigation was filed before the High Court of Bombay, stating the death of 16 migrant workers on Railway track, the Bench took the cognizance of the report filed by several migrant workers and directed the Collector to file the reports of those workers. But on, April 2020 , the Hon’ble Bombay High Court refused to entertain another PIL stating that no mandamus can be passed in conducting the survey[8]. It is not only this case affecting the rights of migrant workers but, there are other High Courts which deprives the fundamental rights to these migrant workers.


CONCLUSION

With other complexities like low immunity, ill-affordability of medical treatment, and comorbidities the contrast gets only harsher. Recent appraisals from Azim Premji University imply that 29% of the metropolitan cities’ population would constitute daily labourers looking to head back to their hometowns/villages, mostly in States such as Bihar and U.P. Therefore, the consequences of these people, with numerous of them possibly being infected and returning back home could be dreadful. Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to make sure public safety to these migrant workers and provide them with food, shelter and emotional support.


In the Indian context, although it may seem challenging, but we have to be mindful in protecting the rural from the urban. The outbreak of COVID-19 in India is relatively different compared to other countries. In order to limit the spread, governments and international organizations must come up with various contingency plans. The public healthcare system in India, is still awful. India spends over 3.6% of its GDP only on public health, which is lower than other neighbors like Nepal. India approximately has eight doctors per ten thousand people. Even with an immediate lockdown instruction, and nation-wide lock-down, there is still critical need for an efficient legal system and contingency plan to overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19.


ENDNOTES [1] Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India Writ Petition (Civil) No. 76 Of 2018 [2] Nagreeka Exports Limited v. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 471 of 2020

[3] Nikhil Rampal, “Rural population in India defenceless against coronavirus threat” published by India Today on March 6,2020 [4] Ibid [5] Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze, An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions , at p.152 [6] National Compaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour (NCC-CL) Vs. Union of India and Others (2018) 5 SCC 607

[7] "Ensure basic necessities to migrant workers: Bombay High Court to Maharashtra Government" Published by The New Indian Express on 08th April 2020 by PTI [8] Sonam Singhal , "Not Possible to Issue Direction unless Govt. decides on migrant labourers: High Court" published by The Hindu bon 16th April 2020

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This blog has been authored by Kanika Jain, who is a 4th year B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at School of Law, Bennett University, Greater Noida.


[PUBLICATION NO. TLG_BLOG_20_8604]

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