The recently concluded monsoon session of parliament was an important one as it was the first session after the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Many MPs raised important questions about the impact of COVID-19 on various sectors, relief extended by the government and about various other data points. Here is a short review of what all did the government provide and what it did not.
The Monsoon Session of the parliament that began on 14 September 2020 was scheduled to go on up to 01 October 2020. However, the parliament was adjourned sine die on 23 September 2020, on the tenth day, because of the rising the number of MPs getting infected from COVID-19. This session was an important one as it was the first sitting after COVID-19 spread in India and imposition of the nationwide lockdown which hit many sectors. The Parliament had assembled after nearly six months from the last session.
During this session, the Central Government has been at the receiving end of criticism after a few Ministers stated that no data was available for a few questions pertaining to the impact of lockdown and the pandemic on various sectors. In this story, we take a look at some of the responses given by the government in the parliament, with respect to COVID-19 and its impact across a few sectors. It has to be noted that this is not an exhaustive list of questions from the Parliament on COVID-19, but the one that tries to capture the most important sectors.
Agriculture has been the topic of discussion during this session following the passing of the three agriculture related bills. The impact of the pandemic on the agriculture sector was asked in the Lok Sabha, to which the ministry responded with the growth rate of GVA of Agriculture and its allied sectors in the first quarter of the last six financial years. The data on beneficiaries under the PM KISAN during the pandemic and data on claims under PM Fasal Bima Yojana was also presented. However, no specific information was provided on the impact on small and marginal farmers or debts. When asked about the loss faced by farmers and the sector in general, the response was that no income assessment was conducted. Data on farmer suicides in 2020 is also not available as per the government.
Civil Aviation and External Affairs
The government provided data on the loss faced by the Airports Authority of India and the data on the footfall of passengers both monthly and airport wise for the period between January to August 2020. Details and numbers relating to Indians who returned from abroad under the Vande Bharat Mission was also presented by the government. Further, data on Indians infected abroad and the number deaths of Indians abroad who were infected was also provided by the government. Data on country wise number of workers and number of Indians who returned in different phases of the mission was also provided.
Commerce and Shipping
The Commerce ministry presented the monthly and year on year (YoY) comparison data for the exports by value and by product for April to June 2020. Data on merchandise exported and imported in July 2019 and July 2020 and the YoY comparison was presented in the parliament. Similarly, the Ministry of Shipping provided data on traffic handled at major ports from December 2019 to August 2020 and compared the same with the previous year along with percentage variation.
Entertainment, Culture and Tourism
For questions about the impact of the lockdown on entertainment industry and artists, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism stated that it did not carry out any impact assessment. However, details of grants released under various existing Central Sector Schemes was presented. Further, for the details on job and revenue loss in the tourism sector, the response of the government stated that data was unavailable as no formal study had been undertaken. When asked about the impact of lockdown on the television and film industry, the I&B ministry provided CRISIL’s estimate that revenue would decrease by 16%.
The Finance Ministry provided details of the assistance provided to states through SDRF and additional borrowing by states. Details of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, and state wise number of beneficiaries and amount released was also provided as a response to a question in the parliament.
The Ministry of Home Affairs was asked questions with respect to CAPF personnel and police personnel infected with COVID-19. While data on force wise number of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel infected with COVID-19 was provided, data on number of police personnel infected was not available as it was not maintained centrally. Details of deaths or injuries during the lockdown due to police brutality were also not available as it fell under the State government’s jurisdiction.
Migrant workers and unemployment
The exodus of migrant workers when the lockdown was announced was one of the most debated issue in the last few months as there were reports on deaths and injuries. Many of these migrant workers had left to their home states, hundreds of kilometres away, on foot. The Ministry of Labour and Employment provided the state wise data on number of migrant workers who returned to their home state. But the ministry stated that there was no data available on the deaths and injuries of the migrant workers. Questions on the loss of job opportunities, job loss in unorganized sector and reverse migration, were answered without citing the details but by only providing the details of the packages announced by the government. On a question about the estimates of unemployment rate and number of people who dropped out of workforce due to COVID-19, the government stated that ‘no such survey has been conducted by the Government’. Even the Ministry of Transport stated that it did not maintain data in respect of persons injured or died in road accidents on national highways while walking to their villages/home towns during the lockdown.
The Ministry of Health provided the data on state wise medical supplies such as HCQ tablets, Ventilators distributed, allocated, and installed, PPE Kits and N95 Masks and amount spent on the same. However, it stated that it did not have data on the number of tribal persons infected, number of healthcare workers infected, and the details of violence against healthcare workers. It was also stated that no central database on plasma banks was available.
Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)
The MSME Ministry’s response to a question on whether the government undertook any assessment on the impact of the pandemic on the sector was vague. It stated that various sectors have been affected temporarily. On the question of how many MSMEs have closed/ become sick during lockdown and state wise data on the same, the government responded with the number of accounts referred to the committee and accounts resolved in the last six and a half years.
Rural Employment & MNREGS
With respect to MGNREGS, the Rural Development Ministry provided data on state wise funds spent between April and August 2020. The same for last three financial years was also submitted in the parliament. Details of households provided with employment and number of person days generated during March and August 2020 was also provided.
The response to a question on the impact of the pandemic on the textiles industry was that the industry did get disrupted during the lockdown. Exact numbers pertaining to orders and supply of jute by mills for June to August 2020 alone were given. No data on cotton, silk or other textiles was provided.
The Railways provided data on the number of coaches that were converted into isolation beds across the different zones. Data on fare collected from state governments for running the ‘Shramik Special Trains’ was also provided.
Total consumption of petroleum products and import of crude oil, for the period April to July 2020 was provided by the Petroleum Ministry. The sector wise consumption of natural gas for 2019-20 and for April to June 2020, refinery wise production was also provided. Furthermore, the details of revenue generated by Public Sector Companies during this period was also provided in the parliament.