The full policy brief is available here
The government of India has been proactively introducing interventions to prevent (or at least contain) the community transmission of the pandemic COVID-19. With over 560 cases recorded (as of 25th March), state governments are imposing restrictions on international travel, closure of places of gathering (schools, colleges, malls, temples, etc.), mandated quarantines, and other social distancing measures. With fewer than 100,000 ICU beds across the country, these restrictions are necessary as the Indian health system would be quite inadequate to treat a full-blown epidemic in the country.
These policy interventions will be carefully studied over the next few months and there is much to learn from the international experiences and efforts in dealing with this pandemic. However, with social distancing measures being more strictly enforced, a large portion of the population is likely to be out of work and may not have any source of income. Countries such as the Egypt, Philippines, Brazil have introduced cash assistance programmes for informal workers affected by this outbreak while the US has announced benefits in the form of tax credits for “gig-workers”. However, the scale of the informal sector in India provides a unique challenge that very few countries could be expected to face. According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey, 2017-18, informal workers account for about three-quarters of India’s workforce, with another 49% of salaried workers without a contract, paid leave or any form of social security. With the economy at a halt, there is a need to employ measures to protect these workers and households from falling (further) into poverty.
In India, the Ministry of Finance has announced grants for six states to ensure basic civic services and cleanliness for both urban and rural bodies. Several states have announced plans to roll out welfare schemes to protect the vulnerable segments of the populations and to deal with the economic challenges caused by the pandemic. With the creation of ‘COVID-19 Economic Response Task Force’ whose mandate is to “consult stakeholders, take feedback, on the basis of which decisions will be taken to meet the challenges”, it is important for policymakers, academics, civil society and practitioners to come together and provide a thoughtful set of interventions that can help mitigate the losses to India’s informal workforce and their families.
In this policy brief, we explore four simple suggestions that can potentially have a significant impact in easing the hardships of unorganised sector households.
- Ensuring cash-less health care services for victims of COVID-19
- Operationalising cash transfers to cover income loss and unemployment
- Measures that the RBI can take to (a) alleviate the debt stress on low-income households, (b) shore up financial institutions, (c) assist the government to increase fiscal expenditure
- Other measures that the government can take
 BBC. Interview with Ramanan Laxminarayan. March 20, 2020 (accessed at: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-india-51962813/india-must-prepare-for-atsunami-of-coronavirus-cases).