New Delhi: Work came to a complete stand still for 78% of rural Indians and 68% are facing a monetary crisis, according to a survey of 179 districts conducted jointly by the news portal Gaon Connection and the research institute Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
Almost 77% of respondents said that the problem of unemployment in their village was either ‘quite serious’ or ‘very serious’. Work had shut down ‘completely’ for 60% of skilled workers surveyed and for 64% of manual labourers.
In the survey, more than 25,000 face-to-face interviews were conducted in 20 states and three union territories between May 30 and July 16.
On the question of migrants returning from cities to their villages, 22% said that they had to walk back home. Only 11% returned home via trains, while 17% managed to take a bus home.
For most migrants, the journeys back home were long ones with 42% of them having made journeys that took more than three days to complete. And as many as 21% of those who returned home took more than five days to reach.
The survey also found that 29% of those who returned began their journeys back home because they ran out of money, while 35% decided to return due to the fear of COVID-19.
Almost 29% of the respondents had not been paid their entire wages by their employers after the lockdown was announced in March.
Perhaps also playing on the minds of the migrants in cities was the difficulty faced by their families in the villages. Forty-one percent of the respondents said that during the lockdown period – while the respondent was in the city – their family had to skip meals due to the lack of resources. More than 38% had to cut down on one or two food items.
During the crisis, the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), sometimes referred to as the employer of last resort for rural India, was able to provide work to slightly less than 20% of the respondents, while 76% did not get any work at all.
Perhaps as a consequence, as many as 33% of respondents said that they would like to go back to the cities that they worked in once the lockdown or the pandemic ends.
Contrary to the Centre’s claims that agriculture has not been impacted much by the COVID-19 induced lockdown, the survey found that the farm sector has indeed suffered significantly.
About 41% farmers said that they were not able to harvest their crop on time, while 42% were unable to sow on time. Fifty-five percent also reported delays in selling their crop.
Eighty-one percent of the farmers who were asked said that they encountered a degree of difficulty in taking their crops to the buyer – with 31% reporting ‘extreme difficulty’. Fifty-five percent said that the difficulties were encountered due to the lockdown.
Fifty-three percent of dairy farmers said that they did not get buyers for the produce and 60% said that they did not get the right price.
However, despite the several difficulties that citizens in rural India encountered, they said that they were pleased with the government’s management of the pandemic. About 74% of respondents said that they were satisfied with the steps the Centre had taken in dealing with the pandemic.
The survey has faced some criticism for not being random and representative. Sanjay Kumar, who is director of CSDS – which designed the survey, said that they could not follow the system they usually follow to ensure random sampling.
“Due to the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions we could not interview in all areas. So, we identified areas where it was possible to conduct the survey. But, we did the best we could given the circumstances,” Kumar said.
So, for instance, the survey was conducted in disproportionately large number of districts in Uttar Pradesh – 41 out of 179 (23% of the total number of districts surveyed). While UP has about 10% of India’s total districts – 75 out of 739.
This, Kumar says, has been controlled for by taking a weighted sample based on a state’s share in total rural population in the country.
But, the survey has completely left out southern states – with the exception of Kerala where 1,203 people were interviewed – of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
“Unfortunately, we had to leave these states out because the sample was too small to be considered,” Kumar said.
He also argued that while the survey could not choose locations randomly, within a location it did choose the interviewees randomly.
Another situation that was less than ideal, according to Kumar, was that CSDS was unable to provide adequate training to those carrying out the survey on the field. “See, CSDS designed the survey and Gaon Connection did the field work,” he said.
“Ideally, before a survey a basic level of training is required for the surveyors. Face to face training for one or two days is required. We couldn’t do that. We tried to do a little bit on Zoom.”
Overall, Kumar said, he is satisfied with the survey given the circumstances. “Absolutely, I have full confidence in the findings. I have as much confidence as I would have in case random sampling was possible because here the sample size is large. We would not have brought out the results if we did not have confidence,” he said.
Social scientist and politician Yogendra Yadav, who in the past conducted numerous surveys at CSDS, said that given the circumstances the survey has done a good job. “I understand that it’s not strictly a random sample and is not representative. But, to take care of that, the sample size is large. And the findings are very important. It’s a goldmine of information,” he said.