Most households in rural Bihar faced livelihood crisis during the first wave of COVID-19, reveals a recent study

Most households in rural Bihar faced livelihood crisis during the first wave of COVID-19, reveals a recent study

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published Published on Aug 2, 2021   modified Modified on Aug 12, 2021


The pandemic's first wave had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of rural workers in Bihar (including the self-employed) last year, according to a survey based research, jointly done by economists from Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability at Monash University, Australia and the New Delhi-based Institute for Human Development. A recent press note issued by the authors of the study shows that almost 94.4 percent of the households participating in any source of livelihood were affected in rural Bihar last year. 

It should be mentioned here that the telephonic interviews with over 1,600 households in rural Bihar had focused on their experience during and following the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020. For the study, the data was collected between 17th October, 2020 and 10th January, 2021 from a sample of 1,613 households in 12 villages across seven districts of rural Bihar i.e. Gaya, Gopalganj, Madhubani, Nalanda, Araria, Purnia and Rohtas. Please consult table-1 for details. 

Table 1: Sample representation for the study in Bihar

Source: PowerPoint presentation by Gaurav Datt related to the IGC sponsored study titled Impact of Covid-19 on rural livelihoods in Bihar, please click here to access
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The study has assessed the impact by comparing a household’s pre-COVID status with its situation since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the researchers who conducted the study, the two framing questions were:
 
a. How did the Covid-19 crisis impact the livelihoods and lives of rural households in Bihar? 
b. How far did the declared Government support translate into support on the ground in rural Bihar? 

Funded by the International Growth Centre (IGC), the reference period for many questions in the survey was April-September 2020. However, the reference period for some questions was "since Corona" i.e. since the Janata curfew of March 22, up to the time of interview.

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Impact of the pandemic

The press note issued by Gaurav Datt, Swati Dutta and Sunil Kumar Mishra dated 4th July, 2021 shows that 55.4 percent of rural households had at least one migrant worker. Similarly, 54.0 percent of rural households had at least someone who was self-employed in animal husbandry, although animal husbandry may not be the main source of income of such households. Please check table-2 for more details.

Table 2: Covid-19 impacts across different sources of livelihood

Source: Press note related to the study titled Changing Lives and Livelihoods in the Wake of Covid-19 Pandemic in Rural Bihar by Gaurav Datt, Swati Dutta and Sunil Kumar Mishra (2021), released on 4th July, 2021, please click here to access
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The study has identified the six main livelihood sources for rural workers in Bihar: self-employment in agriculture, self-employment in animal husbandry, self-employment in non-agriculture, regular wage/ salaried work, casual labour (local), and migrant labour. The rural households, on average, were found to be engaged in two of the six types of activities; over two-thirds were engaged in two or more types of activity. For almost 45 percent of the households, all sources of livelihood were impacted. Among other things, the study finds that the main source of income was affected for nine out of every ten households in rural Bihar. As table-2 shows, every rural household participating in casual labour was affected. Among those households participating in migrant labour, roughly 94.4 percent were affected. Migrant labour and casual labour were found to be the two most important sources of livelihoods, and the main source of income for 51 percent and 18 percent of rural households, respectively.  

On average, workers engaged in casual labour lost around 9 days of work per month since the Janata curfew of March 22, up to the time of interview. This comprised 4 days each for casual labour in agriculture and non-agricultural activities. Although MGNREGA work was the least affected, employment under it went down on average by one day per month, says the press note.

The study by Gaurav Datt, Swati Dutta and Sunil Kumar Mishra depicts a grim picture of the impact of COVID-19 induced nationwide lockdown on the livelihood of migrant workers. Because of disruption of work in destination areas, over half of the migrant workers returned to their native villages in 2020, with the typical worker spending a sum of nearly Rs. 3,000 on the return journey. Most migrant workers returned to their villages by bus, truck or other road transport, shramik trains and other trains, walking on foot and riding a bicycle. The most important factors that impacted migrant workers' employment in the destination states were: stopping of work due to the fear of infection, inability to work due to the travel restrictions imposed, and work sites being closed or termination of employment by the employer, among other things. Of those who stayed back in the destination area, almost 9 out of 10 lost days of work and had to reduce their remittances back home. Among those returning to the native village, the typical worker lost over 40 days of work up to their return to the village, and less than two-thirds of the returnee migrants found alternative part-time work around the village, shows the survey. Many of the migrant workers went back to destination areas after spending an average (median) of 149 days in the village, and about one-fifth of them had not resumed work in the destination area at the time of the survey. 

Although the regular government salaried jobs remained protected, it was found that less than 4 percent of rural households had a member working in a government salaried job. On the contrary, private sector jobs were less protected. About one-fifth of the households with a regular salaried job in the private sector faced job losses, finds the survey.  

Scheduled Caste-SC/ Scheduled Tribe-ST households and low-income households in rural Bihar faced a greater intensity of the impact on their incomes due to the pandemic vis-a-vis upper caste households and high-income households, respectively. While less than 7 percent of SC-ST households had either no impact or impacts limited to subsidiary income sources only, this proportion was about 16 percent for the upper caste households. Similarly, while no or only subsidiary income impact was limited to 6-11 percent of households in the lowest/ low income groups, this proportion was 36 percent of households in the top income group. 

Rural households in Bihar also experienced a range of other impacts on health, nutrition and education due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. About 28 percent of households with children under 2 years of age missed their children’s immunisation since the Janata curfew of March 22, up to the time of interview, while 41 percent of the households with pregnant or lactating women reported being unable to avail of the ante and post-natal check-ups since the Janata curfew of March 22, up to the time of interview. With school closures and the consequent disruption of the mid-day meal scheme (MDMS), just 4 percent of households with school-going children received alternative food supplements from the Government on anything but on an occasional basis; about 16 percent of such households received nothing. Kindly note that media reports had found that in Bihar, cash transfers were provided in lieu of MDMS via bank account transfers during school closures. A newly published working paper states that in Bihar, cash transfers to household worth Rs 114.21 per school child in class I–V (primary) and Rs 171.17 per school child in class VI–VIII (upper primary) were made (which was the cost of 15 days of mid-day meals per child, as per the state government) during school closures.

With school closures, any form of online learning was possible for merely 7 percent of households with school-going children and below 2 percent for households with children in government schools. This clearly shows how the digital divide impacted the children belonging to various socio-economic classes.

Government support and intervention

The study finds that the amount of support received by households from the Government was limited or meagre in several ways, given the pervasiveness and breadth of the impact of the pandemic in rural areas of Bihar.       

* A significant proportion of households were excluded because of lack of eligibility: About 18 percent of the households had no ration card and were unable to receive the additional free ration of rice/ wheat and pulses for eight months, which was provided under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY). Roughly 52 percent of the households were found to be ineligible to receive free cooking gas cylinders for three months under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. Almost 31 percent of the households had no women Jan Dhan accounts to receive cash transfers, a point which Jean Drèze and Anmol Somanchi raised in their jointly written paper titled The COVID-19 Crisis and People’s Right to Food. Only a quarter of households were eligible for ex gratia pension payments to widows, senior citizens or those with disability, according to the press note dated 4th July, 2021. 

* Some received nothing despite being eligible: Roughly 19 percent of eligible households received no free cooking gas cylinders. Exclusion despite being eligible was however limited for free food rations and cash transfers to only about 2 percent of eligible households who received nothing. 

* Among those who received something, most received less than the announced amount: About 78 percent of ration card holders in rural Bihar received less than the announced 5 kg of free rice or wheat per person per month under the PMGKAY; 91 percent received less than 1 kg of free pulses per person per month. The typical (median) cardholding household received nearly three-fourth of the entitlement. In a recent webinar, development economist Jean Drèze has said that the Government failed to keep aside a certain proportion of the entire sum of money it spent on PMGKAY to verify or cross-check whether the food ration was reaching the intended beneficiaries.  

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* The study by Gaurav Datt, Swati Dutta and Sunil Kumar Mishra shows that around 30 percent of the households with women Jan Dhan accounts received less than the announced amount of cash transfer; about 22 percent received only a single instalment of Rs. 500 instead of the promised three. This aspect too was discussed in the paper titled The COVID-19 Crisis and People’s Right to Food by Jean Drèze and Anmol Somanchi. Nearly three-quarters of the households eligible for free cooking gas cylinders received less than the three cylinders as intended by the announced relief measure, finds the study by Gaurav Datt et al. Monthly receipts for over three-fourths of recipients of old-age and disability pension recipients, and over three-fifths of widow pension recipients fell short of entitlements by around 29-47 percent.  

* There is some evidence of displacement of regular PDS rations by free food rations: Only 51 percent of the ration cardholding households received their full normal PDS ration since the Janata curfew of March 22, up to the time of interview. This proportion was even lower at 46 percent for households which received their full quota of free ration of rice/ wheat and pulses under the PMGKAY.

A word or two about multidimensional poverty in Bihar

Given the loss of livelihoods seen in rural Bihar last year due to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that the study by Gaurav Datt, Swati Dutta and Sunil Kumar Mishra shows, it is highly likely that the extent of income poverty and multidimensional poverty (i.e. non-income poverty) that existed there prior to the pandemic, would have deteriorated further in 2020.

The report titled Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2020 -- Charting pathways out of multidimensional poverty: Achieving the SDGs shows that the top five states/ UTs in terms of proportion of people affected by multidimensional poverty in 2015-16 were Bihar (52.5 percent), Jharkhand (46.5 percent), Madhya Pradesh (41.1 percent), Uttar Pradesh (40.8 percent) and Chhattisgarh (36.8 percent). The bottom five states/ UTs in terms of proportion of people affected by multidimensional poverty were Kerala (1.1 percent), Delhi (4.3 percent), Sikkim (4.9 percent), Goa (5.5 percent) and Punjab (6.1 percent). Please check table-3. 

In 2015-16, the top five states/ UTs in terms of number of people affected by multidimensional poverty were Uttar Pradesh (84.7 million), Bihar (61.8 million), Madhya Pradesh (35.6 million), West Bengal (26.2 million) and Rajasthan (23.6 million). The bottom five states/ UTs in terms of number of people affected by non-monetary poverty were Sikkim (27,000), Goa (89,000), Mizoram (1.10 lakh), Arunachal Pradesh (2.76 lakh) and Nagaland (3.77 lakh).

Table 3: Multidimensional poverty across states/ UTs

Source: Global MPI data tables 2020, please click here to access
Note: Based on harmonized indicator definitions for strict comparability over time

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In absolute terms, the highest drop in the number of people affected by multidimensional poverty between 2005-06 and 2015-16 has been noted for Uttar Pradesh (nearly 46 million), followed by Andhra Pradesh (27.5 million), West Bengal (27.2 million), Maharashtra (21.2 million) and Karnataka (about 20 million).    
 
In 2015-16, the top five states/ UTs in terms of intensity of poverty were Bihar (47.2 percent), Rajasthan (45.3 percent), Mizoram (45.2 percent), Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Assam (each 44.7 percent) and Meghalaya (44.5 percent). The bottom five states/ UTs in terms of intensity of poverty were Goa (37.2 percent), Kerala (37.3 percent), Himachal Pradesh (37.4 percent), Tamil Nadu (37.5 percent) and Sikkim (38.1 percent).

In 2015-16, the top five states/ UTs in terms of multidimensional poverty index (MPI) were Bihar (MPI=0.248), Jharkhand (MPI=0.208), Uttar Pradesh (MPI= 0.183), Madhya Pradesh (MPI= 0.182), and Assam (MPI=0.162). The bottom five states/ UTs in terms of MPI were Kerala (MPI=0.004), Delhi (MPI=0.018), Sikkim (MPI=0.019), Goa (MPI=0.020) and Punjab (MPI=0.025). Please click here to get more information about multidimensional poverty.

References

Datt, Gaurav, Dutta, Swati and Mishra, Sunil Kumar (2021). Changing Lives and Livelihoods in the Wake of Covid-19 Pandemic in Rural Bihar, Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability (Monash University, Australia) and the Institute for Human Development, New Delhi  

Please click here to access the press note related to the study titled Changing Lives and Livelihoods in the Wake of Covid-19 Pandemic in Rural Bihar by Gaurav Datt, Swati Dutta and Sunil Kumar Mishra (2021), released on 4th July, 2021 

Please click here to access the PowerPoint presentation by Gaurav Datt, Swati Dutta and Sunil Mishra related to the study titled Impact of Covid-19 on rural livelihoods in Bihar

Drèze, Jean and Somanchi, Anmol (2021): The COVID-19 Crisis and People’s Right to Food, released on 31st May, Open Science Framework, please click here and here to access

COVID-19: Missing More Than a Classroom -- The impact of school closures on children’s nutrition, Authored by Artur Borkowski, Javier Santiago Ortiz Correa, Donald A. P. Bundy, Carmen Burbano, Chika Hayashi, Edward Lloyd-Evans, Jutta Neitzel and Nicolas Reuge, Office of Research – Innocenti Working Paper, Working Paper-021-01, Published in January, 2021, World Food Programme and UNICEF, please click here to access  

Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2020 -- Charting pathways out of multidimensional poverty: Achieving the SDGs, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), please click here to read more

YouTube video: Public Data and Public Policy: Launch of 'India Working in Numbers', Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University, released on 20th July, 2021, please click here to access  

YouTube video: IGC India conference: The economic impact of COVID-19 on households, released on 7th May, 2021, please click here to access

News alert: Several studies but one conclusion -- poorly planned COVID-19 induced national lockdown hurt the poor the most, published on 7 July, 2021, Inclusive Media for Change, please click here to access

News alert: Mid-Day Meals play a crucial role in guaranteeing child nutrition in the post-pandemic world, published on 15 February, 2021, Inclusive Media for Change, please click here to access   

News alert: Sustained efforts required to reduce multidimensional poverty amidst the pandemic, published on 27 October, 2020, Inclusive Media for Change, please click here to access  


Image Courtesy: Inclusive Media for Change/ Himanshu Joshi



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