Many marginalised groups have been neglected during the Covid-19 lockdown in India, a Delhi based non-profit organisation has said in a report based on its analysis of around 700 orders, circulars and advisories issued by the Centre and states on policies for informal sector workers. The report cited their timeline and said it reveals an "ad-hoc" and "unplanned implementation" of the lockdown" imposed in March to check the pandemic's spread.

The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), which comes under the Union home ministry, has endorsed the report by the Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS). The ministry is the country's nodal agency for disaster management.

MHA officials were not immediately available for a response.

The report is based on the Centre's 175 orders/circulars as well as 500 orders by 28 states and Delhi until May 1. It said out of the 175 orders, only 27 were directly related to urban poor and marginal groups. The report added only 12 of them were relevant to the informal sector workers.

The report said not a single order of states or the Centre had any provision for "waste pickers" while only Kerala sought to provide assistance to "transgenders". It added Meghalaya was the only state to make special provisions for domestic workers, saying they should be given their wages and not laid off.

The report said only 12 states like Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Tripura had specific provisions for the homeless. Just 11 states talked about street vendors in their communications, it added.

The report referred to "unplanned implementation of the lockdown" based on analysis of these orders/circulars. "From the first case on January 30 that was reported in Kerala to the March 24 [when the lockdown was announced], there were not many circulars or guidelines that were released not just for informal sector workers and marginal population but for the whole country, suggesting a limbo in planning and forethought at the then-impending crisis," the report said.

It said the Janata Curfew on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call on March 22 for social isolation to curb the Covid-19 spread and the announcement for the lockdown two days later surprised the urban poor and migrants. The reports said they were not warned of the restrictions and thus triggered a wave of migration to shelter and transit points.

The report said some states--Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Meghalaya and Rajasthan--did better vis-a-vis groups like street vendors, domestic workers, construction workers, the homeless and transgenders than the Centre.

It added certain ministries dealing with problems related to food, jobs and shelter for urban poor directly like ministries of labour and housing were "mostly quiet". It added the Union home and health ministries did most of the work. The report said central labour and housing ministries issued just two orders each till May 1.

"The orders have been particularly silent on the issue of inclusion. Though ministry of social justice has come forth with many notifications, there could have been a more concerted focus on the marginal groups that might fail to get their benefits in the times of crisis," the report said. "There has been no mention of transgenders, Dalits and minorities in any of the circulars specifically."

Aravind Unni, who manages IGSSS's team that studied the circulars/orders, said the first two stages of the lockdown showed a huge gap in the understanding of informal sector livelihoods. "All the orders/notifications came after a major crisis had already erupted."

Unni added domestic workers, waste pickers, homeless, street vendors and transgenders especially were completely ignored. "For example, street vendors were not given safety shields and police harassed them while kirana [grocery] stores' sales were streamlined through repeated orders. Similarly, e-commerce websites were allowed to deliver essential items and others. This is in contradiction with Prime Minister's 'vocal for local' call because street vendors are the most local source [of products] in India."

Shalini Sinha - India Country Director of WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing), said - "The waste pickers are the frontline of defense against spread of Covid-19 as they are managing the city's waste while exposing themselves to disease and infection. Many have lost their livelihood as they are not allowed to work during lockdown. They should get benefits of government schemes but they are almost invisible in the system. Governments, while creating any SOPs (standard operating protocols) should integrate them". Sinha, as part of Delhi Roundtable, a network of activists and organisations, wrote to Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal asking government to take care of waste pickers.

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