During the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, several ministries under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government have stated that they have not assessed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrant labourers, the rural sector (including agriculture and fisheries), the pharma industry and tourism, in response to questions raised by opposition party members.
The government's tendency to not part with data on crucial issues comes at a time when the country’s economy saw its steepest contraction on record as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined by 23.9% during the first quarter of financial year 2020-21 over the same quarter the last fiscal. Experts have said that there are chances that the GDP numbers may be further revised downwards, which has been the case in the past two years.
Here is what the government said it knows about the impact of the pandemic on rural India:
In response to a question on economic losses in rural areas due to the pandemic, the Ministry of Rural Development said it had not carried out any assessment of it. To another question on migration, the ministry stated that it did not conduct any study on the level of distress migration in the country from rural areas.
While answering a question on whether the government is aware of losses suffered by farmers and the agriculture sector in the country due to the pandemic, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare stated that there is “no income assessment report available that can estimate the impact of coronavirus on farmers’ income.” Furthermore, the Centre has not even provided information about disruptions caused to the agriculture supply chain due to the lockdown.
When Member of Parliament K. Navaskani asked a question about the impact of the pandemic on small-scale fishers, including on the marketing and processing in the sector and among coastal fishing communities, Pratap Chandra Sarangi, the Minister of State of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, mentioned the relaxations given to the sector during the lockdown. However, he did not mention the impact on the sector.
With the nation-wide lockdown imposed from March 25 with a four-hour notice, migrant workers were the worst hit. Those who lost jobs migrated to their villages using various means, given that public transport was not available. Opposition parties, trade unions and civil society organisations urged the government to address the crisis or facilitate the migration. However, in response to a question on migrant labourers, both the Ministry of Labour and Employment and Ministry of Home Affairs stated that they did not have data on the number of migrant workers who died during lockdown. Furthermore, no compensation has been provided to the deceased labourers.
The tourism sector is one of the worst-hitby the pandemic. Responding to a question concerning the sector, Prahlad Singh Patel, the Minister of State for Culture and Tourism stated: “No formal study has been instituted for assessment of the impact on the Tourism sector and job losses. However, several rounds of discussions and brainstorming sessions with industry stakeholders indicate massive loss of revenue and jobs. In view of the highly unorganised nature of the sector, the impact in numerical terms can only be ascertained in due course.”