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Living with Multiple Vulnerabilities: Impact of COVID-19 on the Urban Poor in the Mumbai

By September 8, 2020December 21st, 2023No Comments

Highlights from YUVA’s Just Published Report Launch and Panel Discussion

On 4 September 2020, we launched a report, ‘Living with Multiple Vulnerabilities: Impact of COVID-19 on the Urban Poor in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR)’. The report is unique, being a ground-up attempt to present the impact of the pandemic among the most marginalised – their conditions, access to government facilitated relief and welfare schemes. It emerges from the assessment of nearly 40,000 households across 10 cities of the MMR. Recommendations to decision makers in the report are derived from demands put forth by these communities.

The report launch was followed by a panel discussion, led by Gayatri Singh (Senior Advocate), Kavitha Iyer (Senior Journalist) and Pritha Venkatachalam (The Bridgespan Group), moderated by Roshni Nuggehalli (YUVA). The panelists discussed various themes the report touches upon and enriched that with their own insights on injustice and violation of human rights they witnessed during the lockdown.

This blog briefly summarises some of these themes discussed and how they have been addressed in our report by way of research and recommendations.

The Role and Relevance of Community-centred Research

‘How do you ensure adequate representation in research? Most of the times, the unheard voices continue to remain unheard. We can control our parameters during the research in a manner that the smallest unattended communities are voiced and not lost due to their sample size.’ 

Pritha Venkatachalam

One important way to achieve this, as Pritha suggested, is to conduct interviews and surveys in the local languages, administered by the representatives from the same local community. This helps ensure that people’s voices are judiously heard and it humanises the sample community, not representing them as mere graphs and numbers.

YUVA’s research has used a mixed methodology. The quantitative assessment helped understand vulnerabilities and access to government provided entitlements during the time of relief distribution. This was done using a household survey questionnaire. The qualitative assessment included telephonic in-depth interviews to document people’s lived experiences during the lockdown and understand the reasons for exclusion from entitlements. The recommendations in the report are derived from people’s demands, thereby enabling the communities to be partners in deciding their development priorities.

Discrete Approaches for Diverse Needs of the Urban Poor

‘While making livelihood policies for the urban poor, we cannot take a one size fits all approach. All urban poor cannot be categorised as a homogeneous group.’

Kavitha Iyer

Kavitha emphasised that from food stall workers to the shoe shine workers, shopkeepers outside railways stations and bus stops, street garment vendors, domestic workers, restaurant staff, all have lost their livelihood because of the lockdown and it is critical to address each category of workers in a different manner based on their needs.

YUVA’s intensive study covered nearly 109 employment types with a majority 45.56 per cent involved in construction work, followed by 14.8 per cent engaged in domestic work, 7.27 per cent working as drivers, 3.82 per cent as street vendors and 0.87 per cent as sanitation workers. The report also highlights the concerns of women-headed households, transgender persons, children, the homeless thereby ensuring coverage of most vulnerable groups.

Enable Easy Access to Welfare and Rights and Strengthen Participatory Governance

The government could have simplified the delivery of welfare schemes instead of making it so bureaucratic and making it difficult for the people to access benefits. They could have used innovative ways to reach out to people during the lockdown.

Gayatri Singh

The panelists discussed the need for bipartisan planning and bipartisan execution of policy measures in the months going forward to effectively tackle the pandemic situation. There is a need for clearly defined demands of communities to reach the duty bearers. Community participation is not only needed but should be encouraged for effective policy planning.

YUVA’s recommendations are primarily towards simplifying the process of execution of various government schemes, for instance the Public Distribution System (PDS), simplifying registration with workers’ welfare boards, reducing procedural requirements and many more, thereby promoting a participatory governance system.

Rethink the Public Distribution System

“Right from the beginning of the lockdown till today we find that people in urban informal settlements queue up for food that is being provided by the civil society groups, individuals, charitable organisations. This is of course indicative of the fact that the PDS has not reached the goal that it needs to achieve by now.” 

Kavitha Iyer

Upon questions raised by participants on the need to de-link the Aadhaar card and ration cards from the PDS to achieve universal access to distribution of food, the panelists strongly agreed and Gayatri Singh even stated that there is a strong need for effective implementation of portability of ration cards.

Interviews conducted by YUVA with ration-card holders revealed that the possession of a ration card didn’t directly imply access, availability or adequacy of ration. Many of those interviewed reported surviving on dal-rice, sugar-rice, rotis or khichdi throughout the lockdown period. Our report covers the combination of barriers of access to essential food supplies, failure of the PDS, as well as the sudden fall in people’s income and savings, which has led to high reported incidents of hunger during the lockdown. People’s demands are voiced in the report, with recommendations for not only a smoother flow of food distribution but also widening the variety of food to sustain a balanced diet.

The Government Needs to Secure People’s Rights and Respond to their Needs

The deepening vulnerabilities of the urban poor during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a wider recognition of pre-existing inequalities. This study by YUVA is a small step towards amplifying voices of those who continue to face these inequalities, and the panel discussion also aimed to focus on these concerns to find a way forward from this dialogue.

The report contains in-depth research and recommendations on the themes discussed in this blog and many more. The findings in our report are thematically arranged in chapters on — access to entitlements and relief, social security of informal workers, migration, compounded vulnerabilities owing to their habitat. The findings from these themes and demands made by people have been outlined to arrive at the recommendations in the report. Read the complete report in English and Marathi.

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