Mumbai: In a first-of-its-kind national survey on the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on rural India, Gaon Connection has released its findings that reflect the untold miseries rural citizens faced during the lockdown, including mounting debt, increasing hunger, complete loss of livelihoods, and inability to access healthcare. However, 74 per cent rural respondents said they were satisfied with the manner in which the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 78% respondents said they were also satisfied with the steps taken by their state government, the survey found. The survey, based on face-to-face detailed interviews with 25,300 respondents, was carried out in 179 districts across 20 states and three Union Territories by Gaon Connection Insights, the data and insights arm of India’s largest rural media platform. The survey was designed, and data analysed by New Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies (Lokniti-CSDS). 

The findings of the survey throw light on how the rural population, including migrant workers, survived the possibly longest nation-wide lockdown. So far, most of the reportage or findings on the impacts of lockdown are from urban centres. Gaon Connection Survey shifts focus towards the rural India where two in three Indians live. 

These survey findings have been put together in the form of a report – The Rural Report – by Gaon Connection. This exhaustive 200-page report is the first set of national insights documenting the post COVID-19 impact on rural India. The report is divided into different themes that include impact on farmers, financial stress and debt, livelihoods and MGNREGA, pregnant women’s health, hunger, future plans of rural citizens, etc.  

Neelesh Misra, founder of Gaon Connection said “Rural India has not been part of the national media narrative in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. This survey offers powerful insights into how rural India dealt with this crisis, and what it plans to do ahead – including questions like, will they return to cities? Will they change spending patterns?”

Sanjay Kumar, professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). said“Gaon Connection and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies decided to collaborate and conduct this survey as we wanted to measure the extent of hardships people faced due to lockdown, especially in rural India about which very little was discussed or documented during the lockdown. We wanted the voices of rural people to be heard by the people living in small towns, cities, and especially those who are engaged with policy making,”

On the margin of error, he added: “If the entire sample had been selected using the probability sampling methods, the overall margin of error for a sample as large as this (25300 respondents) would have been +/- 1 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. However, given that the sampled locations were not spread out evenly in most States/UTs and were selected by non-probability sampling methods owing to logistical and Covid-related issues, we are not in a position to provide reliable estimates of sampling error.” 

Key survey findings of Gaon Connection Survey:

• More than 68% rural Indians faced “high” to “very high” monetary difficulty during the lockdown

• About 23% rural Indians borrowed money during the lockdown, 8% sold a valuable possession (phone, watch etc), 7% mortgaged jewellery, and 5% sold or mortgaged land.

• 78% respondents saw their work coming to a “complete standstill” or “a standstill to a large extent” during the lockdown.

• Skilled workers and manual (unskilled) labourers were the hardest hit. Work shut down completely for 60% skilled workers and 64% manual labourers

• Only 20% respondents said they got work under MGNREGA in the lockdown. Chhattisgarh reported the highest percentage of such households at 70% followed by Uttarakhand (65%) and Rajasthan (59%). Gujarat and UTs of Jammu & Kashmir-Ladakh reported the lowest work under MGNREGA at 2% and 4%, respectively. 

• 23% migrant workers returned home walking during the lockdown. Over 33% migrant workers said they want to go back to the cities to work

• 42% households with pregnant women said these women did not get pregnancy check-ups and vaccination during the lockdown. The lowest percentages were in West Bengal (29%) and Odisha (33%).

• 56% dairy and poultry farmers said they faced difficulty in taking their produce to the buyers; 35% said they did not get the right price for their produce

• More than half the farmers managed to harvest their crops in time in the lockdown, but only one fourth could sell them on time 

• 71% ration card-owning households said they received wheat or rice from the government during the lockdown. Of the 17% citizens who do not own ration cards, only 27% said they received wheat or rice from the government. 

• 71% surveyed households reported a drop in total monthly household income during the lockdown months compared to pre-lockdown months

• The poor were the hardest hit — 75% poor families and 74% lower class households suffered a fall in income during the lockdown.

• 38% of the rural households reported having gone without necessary medicine or medical treatment often or sometimes during the lockdown. In Assam, 87% rural households said they did not receive the required medical treatment followed by 66% in Arunachal Pradesh.