Loan burden increased across India in 2020 amid pandemic: Study

Among marginalised groups, indebtedness was highest in Muslim-majority and Scheduled Caste-majority hamlets

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 15 April 2021

Indebtedness became more acute in around 70 per cent hamlets surveyed in 75 Indian districts during October-December 2020, according to a study on the effects of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and lockdowns.

The figure was 76 per cent in the first few months following last year’s lockdown. There was a slight dip in the indebtedness of the residents (66 per cent) before it rose again at the end of the year, said ‘The State of India's Poor, 2020-21’ report.

The study covered 476 villages spread across Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.

Data was collected in three rounds from April, 2020: April-June, July-September and October-December. The consolidated report will be released early next month.

Among marginalised groups, the burden of loans and indebtedness was the highest in Muslim-majority hamlets (92 per cent), followed by Scheduled Caste-majority hamlets (87 per cent) in the first round, the study found.

Around 95 per cent urban hamlets reported that indebtedness had increased in April-June.

Called the Collect initiative, the study was done by Partners in Change, in collaboration with Praxis, Dialectics, National Alliance Group of Denotified and Nomadic Tribes and Gethu Group, a workers-led think tank. 

Some other key findings focused on nutrition and health, dry ration and education. 

Respondents in 71 per cent of the hamlets reported that none of their children were able t access online education in April-June, when all the schools were shut. This number reduced to 53 and 44 per cent in the next two rounds. Not a single hamlet reported that all children were able to attend virtual classes, the study found.

The general inoculation drives for children also suffered a setback during the pandemic. Even during the end of 2020, 43 per cent hamlets that could not reinstate full coverage of immunisation for children, the survey found.

Only 26 per cent hamlets in July-September and 23 per cent hamlets in October-December reported that the health workers visited their hamlets regularly.

There were wide variations in the access to ration under public distribution system (PDS) among social groups, even though the distribution was high in most months, the study noted. 

“The pandemic-linked lockdown has affected different sections of communities differently. It has deepened long-existing fault lines and exposed apathy of public to those living on the margins,” the authors said in a study summary shared with Down To Earth.

The report will also have data from workers on the likelihood of increase in child labour and early marriage, source of loans, wages, loss of livelihoods, registration of workers, comparison of wage, safety conditions and working conditions before and after lockdown.

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