August 08, 2021

Impact of Covid-19 Second Wave In Delhi-NCR Region

Vikas Rawal, P V Aniyan

THE second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the working people of the country. In the first two weeks of June, the CPI(M) Delhi state committee conducted a survey to assess the impact of the second wave of the Covid pandemic on working classes in the Delhi-NCR region. The survey covered a total of 1,971 workers from Narela, Bawana, Sonia Vihar, Jahangirpuri, Bhalswa, Wazirpur, Shahbad Dairy, Sultanpuri, Mangolpuri, Nangli Vihar, Sitapuri, Rangpuri-Kusumpur Pahadi, Dakshinpuri, NE Delhi and Ghaziabad. The survey was undertaken by CPI(M) activists at these localities and was put together by Prof Vikas Rawal. Results of this survey bring out the grim situation of working class families and the complete failure of the central government in alleviating distress during the second wave.


The working classes of Delhi and Ghaziabad were hit very badly by the second wave. There was a sharp rise in unemployment among informal workers during the second wave. Of the respondents covered in the survey, 4.6 per cent were facing unemployment before the second wave hit the city. As a result of the closure of most economic activities during second wave, 67 per cent of the workers had no employment in April and 72 per cent of the workers had no employment in May. Taking together, about 65 per cent of the workers had no employment in any of the two months.
Of the 1,917 workers covered in the survey, 64 per cent worked as casual workers, 16 per cent had salaried jobs (mostly private, insecure and low-paying), 7 per cent were self-employed skilled workers (electricians, carpenters, plumbers, masons, tailors, etc), and 4 per cent had small businesses (small shops, street vendors, etc) before April 2021. As seen in Table 2, the loss of employment was worst among casual workers. About 72 per cent of those who worked as casual workers before the second wave had no employment at all during April and May. Among self-employed skilled workers about 52 per cent were completely unemployed during April and May. Similarly, about half of those who had petty businesses had to keep their businesses completely shut for two months.

Table 1. Proportion of respondents engaged in different occupations before and during the second wave
Occupation Category                                   Before April, 2021                  April 2021                               May 2021
Casual worker                                                     64.3                                      16.7                                          14.1
Salaried job                                                        15.8                                       10.7                                            8.7
Petty business                                                      4.2                                         1.8                                            1.8
Self-employed skilled worker                              7.2                                         3.2                                             2.4
Any other                                                             3.9                                         1.1                                             1.1
Unemployed                                                        4.6                                       66.5                                           71.9

This loss of employment meant that, even those who managed to find some employment during April and May, suffered a considerable loss of income. While most casual workers became unemployed, those who were self-employed were unable to work for many days, and therefore saw their incomes falling drastically. Average income of self-employed technical workers (masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc) fell from about Rs 8,000 per month before the pandemic to only about Rs 4,700 per month. Average income of petty business owners (shopkeepers, street vendors, etc) fell from Rs 7,622 per month to Rs 4,864 per month in April and only Rs 3,748 per month in May.

Table 2. Proportion of workers in different occupations who lost their employment during April and May, 2021
Occupation before the second wave                                          Proportion of workers who became unemployed (per cent)

Casual worker                                                                                                72
Petty business                                                                                                52
Self-employed skilled worker                                                                        50
Salaried job                                                                                                    28

Table 3. Average monthly income of respondents who were engaged in different occupations before and during the second wave
Occupation category                                      Apr-March, 2020-21                                  Apr, 2021                         May, 2021

Casual worker                                                            6564                                                    6411                                 6109
Petty business                                                            7968                                                    4718                                 4728
Self-employed skilled worker                                    7622                                                    4864                                  3748
Salaried job                                                              14437                                                  14337                                14978


Given low rates of vaccination when the second wave hit the city and a grossly inadequate public health infrastructure, working class families whose members were infected by Coronavirus had to incur very high expenditure on treatment. At a time when most of them were facing loss of employment, this expenditure constituted a major economic burden.

Until the time of the survey in June, about 79 per cent respondents had not received even one shot of Coronavirus vaccines and 15.3 per cent had received only one shot of the vaccine. Lack of vaccination made a vast majority of working class households vulnerable to the Coronavirus infections during the second wave.

Of all the respondents, about 18 per cent reported that they or their family members had Coronavirus infection or had Covid-like symptoms in April or May.

Those who were infected incurred an average expenditure of about Rs 12,000 for treatment. This expenditure constituted a huge economic burden on these households. Out of 18 per cent respondents whose family members battled Coronavirus infection, 10 per cent had no employment during April and May. For the remaining respondents, expenditure for treatment of family members who had Coronavirus infection accounted for 68 per cent of total earnings during April and May.

Table 4. Health expenditure and income of workers whose family members were infected by Coronavirus (or had such symptoms)
Proportion of respondent whose family members had Covid/Covid-like symptoms             18 %
 - of them, respondents who had no employment in April and May                                      10 %
Average expenditure on treatment                                                                                   Rs. 11921
Average income of respondents who were still employed (8% out of 18%)
- April, 2021                                                                                                                       Rs. 9149
- May, 2021                                                                                                                        Rs. 8381

While working class households faced a massive increase in unemployment, and those who were infected by Coronavirus had to bear the additional burden of expenditure on treatment, they received very little support from the social welfare schemes of the government.

The survey collected information on access to subsidised grain from the public distribution system, and found that a majority of working class households of Delhi-NCR region did not have access to it.

Of the respondents covered in the survey, families of 54 per cent did not have ration cards. These households did not get any subsidised grain.

Secondly, even in case of households which had a ration card, all members of the households were not registered on the card. As a result, the per capita grain received by such households was less than what they should have been entitled to. In April, per capita grain received was less than 5 kg for 48 per cent of card holding households.

Distribution of foodgrain under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY), which entitled households with ration cards to additional 5 kg per capita grain, started only in May. But even in May, only 31 per cent of the households with ration cards received a full 10 kg per capita grain.

The survey conducted by the Delhi state committee of CPI(M) shows that the second wave of the Covid pandemic had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of the working people in Delhi and NCR region. While they were already reeling under the impact of the first wave and the slowdown of the economy, the second wave rendered most of them unemployed. The loss of employment, and consequently of earnings, was very high among casual workers, among self-employed skilled workers and among those who ran petty businesses. In addition, many families had to bear a substantial burden of treatment for Covid infections.

During this period, government’s social welfare schemes such as the public distribution system proved to be grossly inadequate in providing support to working class families. Despite over 100 million tonnes of grain lying in its godowns, the central government has been miserly in releasing grain for distribution. A universal public distribution system is the need of the hour. At least during the period of the pandemic, government should allow every family, irrespective of whether they have a ration card or not, to buy subsidised grain from the ration shops if they need.

In view of the widespread loss of employment, there is a pressing need to immediately start providing cash assistance to working class households. Findings of the survey conducted by the Delhi state committee provide support to the demand by CPI(M) that the central government should provide a cash assistance of Rs 7,500 per month to poor households during the period of the pandemic.

These findings also underscore the urgent need to strengthen the public health system so that health care is available for free to all during the pandemic.

The survey was released in a press meet organised by the Delhi state committee in which Brinda Karat, K M Tiwari participated and Prof Vikas Rawal presented the findings. Brinda Karat while speaking at the meet said Modi government is afraid of truth and hence had stopped counting poverty and unemployment figures in the country and this survey shows the stark reality of the livelihood conditions of the working class households in the capital of India. Based on the survey results the Delhi state committee has submitted a memorandum to the Delhi chief minister demanding fair coverage of PDS by increasing the number of ration card holders, adopting the Kerala scheme of monthly grocery kits, cash transfer of Rs 7,500 for all unorganised sector working class families, welfare pensions for all unorganised sector workers beyond the age of 60, urban employment guarantee scheme as a relief to workers in ailing sectors, stepping up vaccination for all and ramping up testing-tracing mechanism and health infrastructure.