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Issue Brief No.12

Pandemic-induced Poverty in India after the First Wave of COVID-19: An Elaboration of Two Earlier Estimates

Policy making, to be effective, requires assessments of magnitudes and trends of major events based on evidence. One of the objectives of government policy interventions is—or should be—to pick up and stem slides in standards of living when they occur. For a stubbornly poverty-stricken country such as India, this function of the state assumes even greater significance when calamities, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, descend on the populace. Although the Government of India is yet to release data on the population pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic, research organisations—both national and international—have attempted to study this important link. These studies throw light on the important issue of arriving at estimates of the numbers of people that might have been pushed into poverty as a consequence of COVID-19, and therefore on the magnitude of the problem confronting any conscientious policy-maker. The first of the two estimates assessed in this essay is due to researchers at the Pew Research Centre (PRC) in the U.S., and the second to researchers at the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University (APU) in India. In this Issue Brief, S. Subramanian, Economist, and author of Inequality and Poverty: A Short Critical Introduction, and other books on poverty, seeks to reconstruct the assumptions and data inputs that have gone into the making of the estimates under review. Analysing the estimates, which suggest vastly differing outcomes, he discusses the manner in which poverty figures are arrived at to provide a quantitative picture of economic deprivation. In the immediate context, and on the basis of such data as are available, he concludes that it could be reasonably estimated, in line with the APU study, that anywhere upward of 200 million people may have slid into poverty after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. This finding assumes importance as an aspect of evidence-based assessment of the economic devastation that has accompanied the pandemic. It points even more specifically to the role of the state, or its relative absence, in safeguarding its peoples from a once-in-a-century, long-drawn out catastrophe which has persisted for over a year. Behind these numbers are real people, whose predicament would have been better served by a state with a mind to basing policy intervention on evidence, not least when such research evidence is available in the public domain. Even based on a partial assessment, the two main pandemic responses by the government – a hastily declared lockdown and reluctantly ad-hoc relief measures – have resulted in “grievously harsh” consequences for India and its fight against poverty. By highlighting the outcomes of two earlier significant research efforts, Subramanian invites attention to importantly required numbers that would enable policy makers to get a sense of the enormity of the deprivation that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Related Articles Published in The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy: 1. Priya, R. et al., 2022 . COVID-19: Urban Middle Class Survey Highlights Need for People’s Agency in Policy Making , February 18. 2. Souza, P. D. S., et al., 2021 . The Supreme Court of India’s Vision for e-Courts: The Need to Retain Justice as a Public Service , July 10. 3. Shankar, G and Kiumari, R. 2020 . The Migrant Economy During the Pandemic: An Exploratory Study in Baisi Block, Bihar , December 10. 4. Jacob, N. 2020 . Sewage Testing as a Pandemic Monitoring Tool , September 10.HTML Version [PDF 438 KB]

Issue Brief No.11

Cooperatives Need a Regenerative Movement More than a New Ministry

In the space of two weeks in July, two decisions resurrected the policy focus on cooperatives in India. The first, by the executive, was to constitute an independent Union Ministry of Cooperation (MoC). The second, by the judiciary, was a verdict of the Supreme Court of India declaring that cooperative societies as a subject matter belong “wholly and exclusively to the State legislatures to legislate upon”. In this Issue Brief, H.S. Shylendra, Professor, Social Science Area, Institute of Rural Management (IRMA), Anand, draws out the legal and constitutional implications of these two developments, presents the relevance of a cooperative-based economy, and identifies the pathways for its success in the light of India’s experience with cooperatives and the prevailing political economy. The best prescription, he concludes, would be a movement, more than a ministry, to support India’s ailing cooperative sector proactively in diverse ways without hurting its autonomy. HTML version [PDF 326 KB]

Issue Brief No.10

Uniform Civil Code: The Importance of an Inclusive and Voluntary Approach

The call for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has long featured on the agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and found mention in its manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The issue is not new either for the BJP or for Indian politics: it has been at the centre – and sidelines – of political and legislative debates for well over a century and a half. The BJP was the first party in the country to promise the implementation of UCC if it were to be elected into power. Now that it holds the reins of power, it may be a matter of days before the subject leapfrogs from the cycle of debates to actual law. The urgency seems unavoidable given the ruling party’s recent history with regard to the revocation of Article 370, rendering all forms of talaq to be void, in the context of the talaq-i-biddat, and the determination it has shown towards the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Keeping in mind the right wing political narrative dominant in the country, the recent pronouncements made in political quarters as well as by the Supreme Court, C.K. Mathew, who was Chief Secretary of Rajasthan before retiring from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), traces the trajectory of the UCC debate, linking it to the contentious evolution of the Hindu Code Bill, and other key developments since independence, such as the Shah Bano case. He draws also attention to international experiences from Rome, France, and the UK and other countries, including the Islamic nations. Mathew accepts that UCC has been a long-pending matter and also that it is arguably a necessary push in the direction of equity and freedom, especially with regard to gender. And yet he advises caution in applying it to a diverse people with varying degrees of religious sensibilities. The way forward, he says, is not to force it on an unwilling people but to follow the middle path of voluntary adoption, as once suggested by the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India and the country’s first Law Minister, B.R. Ambedkar: “It is perfectly possible that the future parliament may make a provision by way of making a beginning that the Code shall apply only to those who make a declaration that they are prepared to be bound by it, so that in the initial stage the application of the Code may be purely voluntary .” [Emphasis by author.] Issue Brief No. 10 (HTML)[PDF 498 KB]

Issue Brief No.9

Governance by Fear in Tamil Nadu: A Template from Thoothukudi

Thoothukudi, in southern Tamil Nadu, found its place in recorded history preceding even that of the State’s capital, Chennai. Famed as one among the world’s ancient seaports documented by the likes of Ptolemy, it is now in the news for all that can go wrong in the dynamic interplay of the state and citizenry, industrialisation and the environment, and governance and public interest. On May 22, 2018, police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators who had been protesting against a copper smelter plant, which for close to two decades was mired in controversy over its impact on the environment, public health, and the manner in which the state was seen as siding with corporate interests overriding public concerns. The police action on the 100 day of the protests went down as an emotive experience in which public voices were stilled by bullets, governance was all but abdicated by civil authorities, and, in a seeming response to the popular outcry, the smelter, run by Sterlite Copper, a subsidiary of Vedanta, a global mining conglomerate was shut down. In this Issue Brief , M.G. Devasahayam, former Indian Army and Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, puts together the pieces and focusses the spotlight on the failure of state mechanisms, leading to the government resorting to “Governance by Fear.” Drawing from his experience as an administrator and soldier he points out the serious flaws in the handling of the entire issue by the political leadership, executive and the judiciary. He dissects the order under Section 144 CrPC and exposes its illegality, draws attention to the procedural blunders and the disproportionate role played by the uniformed force of the State, and the manner in which what started out as an expression of collective dissent ended in a tragedy which claimed the lives of 13 people and the limbs of many more. The Issue Brief also delves into the growing trend of the seemingly democratic state becoming brazenly autocratic to facilitate the “ruling oligarchy grow richer while their less fortunate brethren suffer and starve” a sure sign of the State not being governed as per the mandate of the Constitution of India. Click to read this Issue Brief (HTML)


Simultaneous Elections: Striking at the Roots of Parliamentary Democracy

It has become an article of faith with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that elections must be held concurrently to the Lok Sabha and the State assemblies – ostensibly to achieve the twin-objectives of minimising the expenses involved and eliminating the disruption caused to governance and development goals by frequent elections. The idea of a single common election originated in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s 2014 election manifesto and has since been taken up vigorously on multiple forums, among them the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, the Election Commission of India, the Niti Ayog, the Law Commission and at internal meetings of the BJP. As Jagdeep Chhokar, a founding member of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), points out in this Issue Brief, although Modi has disavowed a direct role in pushing the idea, his imprint is clearly visible in the sequence of events aimed at kick-starting the exercise as well as in the urgency shown by the various arms of the government, not to mention an autonomous institution like the Election Commission: “Modi himself nudged and pushed the idea at every stage and on every institution”. As an example of the pressure that institutions have been facing on supporting and advocating simultaneous polls, the author cites the divergence in the views of former President, Pranab Mukherjee, held while in office and after retirement. As President, Mukherjee endorsed the holding of combined polls but on retirement rejected the same idea as undemocratic and against the interests of the States.In this Issue Brief, Chhokar questions the submissions made in favour of combining Union and State elections and holds the move to be seriously flawed – both conceptually and in terms of its practicality. The exercise will require extensive amendments to the Constitution which will upset the balance of power between the States and the Union in the latter’s favour. This encroachment into federal rights has the potential to alter the basic structure of the Constitution, which has been held to be inviolable by the Supreme Court.In practical terms, it will mean artificially cutting short or extending the terms of elected assemblies which strikes at the root of Parliamentary democracy. The author asks whether the conduct of elections, intrinsic to the survival and life of a democracy can be sacrificed at the altar of ‘development’ or administrative compulsions.Chhokar also dismisses the argument that the Model Code of Conduct enforced in the run up to elections is an interference in governance by pointing out that the code imposed no restrictions that affect governance. On the spiralling cost of holding elections, a reason cited repeatedly by the proponents of synchronised polls, Chhokar asks: “Should the nation be looking to create the ‘most effective’ democracy or the ‘least expensive’ democracy?”