First Wave of Covid-19

‘Started A Food Stall after Losing Job; I Live Respectably Now’

Balbir Singh alias Bittoo lost his job in hotel industry during first wave of Covid-19. He took to selling home-cooked food on a ‘scooty stall’ in west Delhi and is happy with his decision

I worked at the transport department of a five-star hotel in Delhi as a cab driver. The first wave of Covid-19 and the lockdown brought the hospitality industry to its knees. All the hotels were shut as there were few guests. First come the salary cuts, then downsizing of the staff. I was employed on a contract basis and was among the first lot to be fired.

Initially, I thought that the bad times would last for a short period – may be 15-20 days or maximum for a month. It did not seem back then that this would go for such a long time. As time passed, the financial stress increased. For three-four months, I kept sitting idle at home, using my savings.

Gradually, the funds dried up. As I have kids to look after and their studies, domestic expense, electricity & water bill, house rent all cost a steady expense. When my provident funds also dried up, I had to find something else to survive. I realised I would have to make a fresh beginning.

There were no jobs, only the jobless. Hotels were not open. The idea of setting up a food stall struck because I had always enjoyed cooking. I decided to take up the food business. I borrowed money from my friends and bought utensils, gas stove, and other items.

ALSO READ: Virus Killed My Job, But Not My Resolve

First, I thought of using a pull-cart to set up the paraphernalia but that would require another person as help to move. It also required a designated slot, besides other civic regulations to comply with. So I thought of running the stall on my scooty. That way, no helping hand would be required and it offered better mobility. I selected a vantage point, took God’s name and launched my own small home food business.

In these difficult times, many people do not have jobs or high earnings. Many people faced salary cuts, reduced daily wages and other loss of income. These factors weighed on my mind in fixing the price of my food items. I felt that instead of earning a profit of ₹10 per item, if I can keep it at ₹5, it would benefit both my customers and my business. I will be able to feed my patrons and my family both.

I sell four varieties of food daily – Kadhi, Chole, Rajma and Soya Chap. The price for a meal falls between ₹40 and ₹60. All the food is homemade. My customers swear by the food quality, taste and pricing. I come to this spot around 12:30 and the food gets over by 3 to 3:30 pm.

The situation at home is better than earlier. I no longer have to ask for money from anyone. I am earning myself and all my expenses are being spent from my money. I hope by God’s grace I will have my shop soon and run the same business under a roof.

‘Lockdowns, Covid Took A Heavy Toll On People’s Mental Health’

Bhavika Mehta, 25, a psychologist from Bhiwani (Haryana), lists some of the cases she came across amid the pandemic and how she dealt with them

The pandemic has been tough on everyone, more so on the sections and individuals who were vulnerable when it came to mental health even before the pandemic. As a psychologist, I feel that the pandemic has amplified all pre-existing issues including mental health. For the past six months I have been providing free counselling to people reaching out to me. My aim is to help people find some semblance of certainty and peace amid the pandemic

I meet people who are worried about job loss or have already lost their jobs to those dealing with issues regarding their sexuality. Then there are people who have not been able to cope with the passing away of loved ones due to pandemic. There is also the issue of people finding it difficult to manage their emotions while being cooped up in their homes during lockdowns. So far I haven’t received any long Covid cases but I am confident I will be able to help people battling with its impact.

I helped a young boy around 20 who had lost his job as a security guard and was finding it difficult to find a new job because he used to stammer. I counselled him to focus on his strengths rather than his weaknesses and get him enrolled in a free computer class. I told him only his typing speed would matter, and not his speech.

ALSO READ: Covid Normalised Seeking Help From A Psychiatrist

I also helped a girl with gender dysphoria issue. She is 21 and recently married and had seen a lot of violence against women as a youngster. The pandemic made it even more difficult for her to process her emotions. Her parents wanted to take her to tantriks etc but I intervened. The girl has been improving steadily.

Mehta says rise in domestic violence during lockdowns affected the children the most

Then there is a woman who has been finding it difficult to handle the death of her father and feeling listless. There was also a case when all family members’ nerves were stretched to the extreme and the mother went completely silent because of incessant bickering that would take place in the house.

I feel deeply for the young children caught in the pandemic, kids who watch their parents fight day in and day out due to lockdowns. The pandemic is so new and uncertain that no one knows how to deal with it and parents find it difficult to translate their concerns properly to their children. Moreover, kids find it extremely difficult to handle lockdowns, since they can’t go out and play.

I believe we all need to display empathy if we want a mentally healthy society. On an objective level the pandemic has been dreadful, but if we take a subjective look, it has forced us to be ourselves; to bring out our real personalities to the fore. Most importantly, we have to accept the pandemic and even when it becomes endemic, we need to take care of our mental health.

I am happy that during the pandemic many people have begun taking mental health seriously and the judgement or stigma around it has lessened. And while we are at it I would like to say that mental healthcare professionals shouldn’t forget to take care of their own mental health. We all need to live in the present and breathe slowly, that is the very essence of good mental health.

Employees Provident Fund members

India’s Job Creation Challenge

What are the major concerns of Indians today? According to the December issue of Ipsos, the global market research and public opinion specialist, the three burning headaches of urban Indians are unemployment (41%), financial and political corruption (29%) and coronavirus (29%). These are followed by urban Indian worries about crime and violence (25%) and poverty and social inequality (25%). India is one of the 26 countries that feature in Ispos periodic review of citizens’ perception as to whether the things are moving in the “right direction” or “are they off on the wrong track?”

One can always make an issue of the quality and breadth of the survey sample size and how good are interviewers in engaging interviewees in discussions. Whatever that may be, this work of Ispos has won global recognition and there should be no hesitation in accepting that urban unemployment is hitting growing numbers of people across the country as the third Covid-19 wave in the form of mutant Omicron spreads fast. The curse of people going without work and therefore, drying up of their income is being increasingly manifest in rural areas too.

The job data report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) saying unemployment rate in the country touched a four-month high of 7.91% in December comes as confirmation of popular concern of lack of employment opportunities. It will be poor consolation to say that the country had experienced an unemployment rate of 8.3% in August.

According to CMIE, the urban unemployment rate in December rose to 9.30% from 8.21% in the previous month. In rural areas, unemployment rate during the period was up from 6.44% to 7.28%. Remember people living in rural areas constitute close to 70% of the country’s population. This should give an idea of hardships of rural people without ownership of land. CMIE report says new jobs were created in December, but these were far less than people joining the ranks of jobseekers.

“Around 8.3 million additional people were looking for jobs. However, 4 million jobseekers got employment,” says CMIE managing director & CEO Mahesh Vyas. What is happening on the employment front is not surprising against the background of muted economic activity and consumer sentiment downed by Omicron. From an ill-advised demonetisation that badly hit the informal sector and a fairly large part of building construction activities across the country to clumsy rollout of GST, a number of policies were found to be anti-job growth.

State Bank of India says in a recent report that progress of formalisation of the economy has seen the share of informal sector in GDP falling from 52% in 2017-18 to 15-20% in 2020-21.The report has found that ₹130 million crore has come under the formal economy in the last few years. Formalisation is to be welcomed, for it brings increases in output and turnover by firms, which are liable to pay taxes. Cash intensity of the economy will continue to diminish as the government continues to give thrust to cashless transactions, promote digital payments and kisan credit cards and transfer of all kinds of cash benefits to beneficiary bank accounts.

ALSO READ: Covid Has Deepened India’s Poverty Pit

While all that is good for the economy, the question remains as to what extent job losses in the informal sector have been made good by creation of new jobs in the formal sector. Precise figures are not available. But one can easily guess the privation of people who became redundant in the process of emasculation of informal sector gaining pace since the breakout of Covid-19. No wonder more and more faces of jobless Indians stand frazzled.

The unemployment situation being so critical, New Delhi is pushing profit-making public sector undertakings to take up major capital expenditure programme along with green signalling construction of new highways and other infrastructure projects. At the same time, the banks are encouraged to fund private sector greenfield projects and also its expansion at present operating sites. Infra work is always employment intensive, though not of permanent kind. At the same time, because of high levels of automation and digitisation, investments in manufacturing industries are now generating lesser number of jobs than before.

Let’s consider the ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel (AMNS) announcement to build a massive 24 million tonne (mt) steel plant in Kendrapara district of Orissa (since renamed Odisha) at an investment of over ₹10 million crore. The joint venture company will run the plant permanently employing only 16,000 people. No doubt, the proposed steel plant will create significant indirect employment opportunities several times bigger than direct employment in the mother plant through ancillary and downstream industries and services. But compare the direct employment to be created by AMNS investment at Kendrapara with Tata Steel’s 31,189 people on roll (2020-21 annual report figure). The more than a century old Tata Steel has capacity of 19.6 mt at its three mills at Jamshedpur and Odisha.

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik is aware that the state’s rich endowments of mineral resources, including iron ore, coal, chromite manganese ore and bauxite must not only be used to make primary metals such as steel and aluminium but these must be further value added within the state to generate employment for the local people and revenue for his government. That is why at the prodding of Patnaik, the National Aluminium Company and Vedanta Aluminium are building aluminium parks adjacent to their smelters where small and medium units will get liquid metal to make value added aluminium products.

Vedanta Aluminium CEO Rahul Sharma says his company promoted aluminium park will bring in “investment of at least ₹2,000 crore, create an annual incremental economic value of ₹4,500 crore for the state and generate livelihood for more than 10,000 people.” Steel mills and aluminium refineries and smelters in Odisha are found in areas where tribal population is in majority. Ancillaries linked to mother plants and downstream units for value addition to primary metals create many jobs but they need skilled hands. Here the state – in this case Odisha – will have to build institutions in concerned districts to impart skills to tribal and people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes to be ready to work in factories.

India’s rapidly expanding information technology sector, fintech, which is inviting considerable support from venture capitalists and start-ups mounted on IT are the exceptions where supply of human resources are to fall short of growing requirements for at least the next five years. The country’s largest staffing solutions provider Teamlease says fulltime employee attrition in the technology industry will rise to 22% by March 2022 when attrition in contract staffing will be 49%. Shortages of IT and engineering human resources leading to high rates of job hopping are a global phenomenon that is not going to go away any day soon. At the same time, the problem is manifest more in India and other sourcing countries than destination places such as the US and Europe. In their desperation to retain talents, many Indian employers in IT and e-commerce industries are increasingly resorting to the practice of making better offers to people who have served notice to quit. The practice, however, in many cases is proving counterproductive. With counteroffers in hand, the ones having decided to leave in any case get a handle to strike a better deal with new employers.

The counteroffers could result in demoralisation of performers who are not looking for greener pastures. The competitive bidding game is a no-win practice. Shortages of human resources in the specialised niche sectors call for colleges, universities and IITs to raise capacity to produce larger number of IT experts. At the same time, the IT groups and manufacturing companies digitising their operations will have to have bigger budgets for employee up-skilling.

Covid Has Deepened India’s Poverty Pit

Stark poverty and hunger is stalking contemporary India but no one wants to see it or talk about it, especially the establishment and its economists. If statistics could tell stories of infinite sorrow, then nothing less than a mass tragedy, devastating, invisible and ghettoized, is currently stalking the inner lanes of an unhappy Indian landscape, and spreading with as much deathly intent as the deadly delta virus. 

First, let us talk of the ‘missing women’. The unorganized sector, with practically no rights for workers, operated by cold-blooded sharks outside official labour laws, with not even job protection for fixed days, or fixed wages, shelter and crèches for children, no maternity and health benefits for women, no provident fund/gratuity/pension, or trade union rights, etc, constitutes more than 90% of the Indian workforce. Barring some states like Kerala, Delhi and West Bengal, workers in the unorganized sector largely don’t have fundamental rights. Half of them are women – and most of them are from the poorest communities – landless Dalits, adivasis, extremely backward castes, Muslims.

The fact is thousands of women seem to have disappeared from the work force since the pandemic. So where have all the women gone?

It’s a fact that majority of domestic helps, working in the gated societies, for instance, lost their meager income since March last year. Many of them were socially ostracized, unceremoniously sacked, not paid their wages, and banned from entering the gated societies. Many were compelled to ‘migrate’ back to their jobless small towns or villages with eternally stagnant economies.

Workers were told by their employers to leave the dingy tenements in urban ghettos, where 5 or more would share a room, because they could not pay the rent. Their children opted out of schools. Many women, and their kids, were seen ‘begging’ outside the posh markets in Noida, even as the rich filled their cars with goodies during the relaxation in curfew hours.

ALSO READ: No Country For Migrant Workers

Many families have been starving, or eating one meal. All of them want to work and earn with dignity; others are afraid to stand in long, crowded food queues because of fear of the virus. For a long period those who did not have Aadhar or ration cards, had no clue how to get food from the public distribution system, even in a city like Delhi.

Consulting firm Dalbert, in a study conducted during March-October last year, reported that women have reduced their food intake because of less income, their rest hours have decreased and ‘unpaid care work hours’ have increased, at least a tenth of the women said that food is in very short supply and they are eating less, 16% had limited or no access to menstrual pads, while 33% of married women had no access to contraceptives as the pandemic disrupted public health outreach programmes. More than 43 per cent women were yet to recover their paid work. While it was terrible last year, the second surge devastated them. The study surveyed 15,000 women and 2,300 men from low-income households in 10 Indian cities.

“If the virus does not kill us, poverty will kill us,” said a balloon seller last winter in Noida. The invisible working class ghetto inhabited by Dalits and extremely backward caste people from Bengal, Bihar and UP, in Noida, surrounded by swanky highways and palatial houses, became jobless overnight on March 24, 2020. The street food vendor found no buyer, rickshaw-pullers no passengers, traffic light sellers no customers, even as thousands of construction workers were rendered jobless as the real estate industry crashed. Workers in the unorganized and small-scale industry, its back broken by demonetisation and GST, found a quagmire beneath their feet – rapidly sinking, and not a straw to hold on.

Stark poverty and hunger has been systematically turned invisible in India in the neo-liberal era, especially in the metros. Therefore, it was disconcerting for the cocooned affluent society when images of thousands of migrant workers suddenly emerged on highways, walking under a scorching sun. Pray, who are these condemned and exiled people?

With their worn out clothes, sacks and plastic bags, mothers holding their children, often barefoot, hungry and thirsty, with absolutely no relief from the central government, they were escaping the stark social/economic uncertainty after a lockdown was suddenly declared by the Centre. Among many enduring images of this Indian reality was the image of a dead mother at the Muzaffarpur Railway Station, her little child tugging at her sari. She was a migrant worker trying to go ‘home’ – from Ahmedabad to Bihar.

ALSO READ: Covid Ruined My Life – Financially

Delhi is classified as the most urban state (98%) in India. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Delhi reported the lowest labour force participation rate (LFPR) for women during the pandemic. Female LFPR was as low as 5.5% compared to the male LFPR of 57. Unemployment among women was 47%, compared to 21 among men.

As many as 10 crore people reportedly lost their jobs during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown. While in the pre-election scenario in 2019, India marked the highest rate of unemployment in 45 years, a reality the Modi-led government tried to fudge, currently, it is estimated, approximately 140 million people are jobless, and this includes the corporate sector. The jobless figures are hazy; unemployment has shot up to 11.7 %, last year it was 8. Job losses have been higher in Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, due to the impact of Covid.

A new Pew Research Center study states that consequent to the ‘deep recession’ in 2020, the middle class has shrunk by 32 million. This substantiates the speculation that millions of middle class households have been pushed into low income groups. The 32 million listed by Pew accounts for “60 per cent of the global retreat” in the number of people in the middle-income tier (defined here as people with incomes of $10-20 a day).

The number of people who are poor in India (with incomes of $2 or less a day) has increased by 75 million because of the COVID-19 recession. This factor also accounts for 60% of the global increase in poverty.

According to the Pew study, only 19% women remained employed and a high 47% suffered a permanent job loss, not returning to work even by the end of 2020. That is, almost half of the women workforce has effectively ‘disappeared’.

The study reported: “Prior to the pandemic, it was anticipated that 99 million people in India would belong in the global middle class in 2020. A year into the pandemic, this number is estimated to be 66 million, cut by a third. Meanwhile, the number of poor in India is projected to have reached 134 million, more than double the 59 million expected prior to the recession…”

Surely, there are millions of micro cases spread like unwritten stories of infinite inequality and economic/social discrimination across the remote rural terrain and in urban ghettos. They need to be documented, filmed, and written. The scale of this human tragedy could be epical.

Indeed, Mamata Banerjee made a cryptic point recently in Delhi: she said that it’s high time we have ‘sachche din’ in India –we already have had an overdose of ‘achche din’.

A Migrant Worker Who Came to Delhi-NCR from Bihar

‘Lockdowns, 1st Wave, 2nd Wave… Life Is Tough For Migrants’

Mohammad Manan, 25, a migrant worker who came to Delhi-NCR from Bihar, says he has survived so far but is worried about an impending third Covid wave

I came to Delhi- NCR nearly a decade ago for work. Supporting a family is no easy task but I was managing it fine until the pandemic struck.  Since then, things have gotten very confusing and uncertain. The recurring lockdowns, the first wave, the second wave, it is a difficult time for everyone.

After the first wave last year, we thought we had survived the virus. But then came the second wave and I had to return to my village Sonbarsha in Saharsa district (Bihar) to be with my ageing parents. Most migrant workers from the locality I live in left for their native places as they did during first lockdown. We braved the first wave, but the second wave was worse than the first, so we decided to leave.

Lockdowns have impacted everyone’s earnings, be it migrant workers like me or people who run businesses. Everyone has been worried about their job or business security. I went home in April and came back in June-end, so basically I stayed in Bihar for two months. I strained my savings to travel in Three-Tier AC in the train because I was worried about contracting the virus. After all I was going back to earn a living and couldn’t afford to fall sick as soon as I entered the city of my livelihood for so many years.

ALSO READ: No Country For Migrant Workers

When I reached Ghaziabad (NCR), unlock had begun and someone else had been hired in my place at the optical shop I worked for. I spent two weeks in agony not knowing what I would do for a living and applied at various places. A family of six is dependent on me. My wife works as a domestic help and supports the family, but in these times one needs to have enough savings. Kabhi medical help ki zaroorat ho to hamare pas hath me kuch paise hon (there should be reserve cash for medical situation).

Luckily I got my old job back. I wish there were work opportunities in my village too. Those two months I earned nothing.

Even though I have my old job back, predictions of a third wave has me worried. What will we do if it is even more dangerous than the second and the lockdown stricter and longer? So many business days that have gone waste. Every month I send some money to my parents and God forbid if anyone contracts the virus! I wish the government improves the healthcare facilities in rural areas and also figured out ways to support people who have lost their jobs or whose businesses were impacted.

Right now, we are just about managing somehow but my biggest strength is my wife’s optimism and courage. She says we need to take one day at a time, and be thankful for each day that we have survived. She says even though our position is shaky we can keep figuring out newer ways to earn. I have picked up some tailoring skills and do minor alterations etc and get paid for it.

So we believe God helps those who work hard. My workplace is around 15 minutes away from my home and I use my cycle to commute. Thank God I use a cycle, with the price of petrol shooting up continuously driving a bike is a costly affair.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

Ghatak Speaks about her Struggle

‘Husband & I Lost Jobs In March; Survival Is Tough’

Young parents Rimpa Ghatak and her husband Manthu Roy were looking forward to join a Siliguri school as art teachers when the pandemic struck. Ghatak speaks about her struggle and hopes

As if to weather the pandemic with a young child was not enough, my husband and I both lost our jobs during the pandemic. Call it a twist of fate or whatever else but it has been difficult for us to make sense of the whole situation.

My husband Manthu Roy (35) and I both were employed as art teachers at a private residential school in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh and even had new job offers from a reputed school in Siliguri, West Bengal around December 2019. Since the offer was good and Bengal is known for its art appreciation, we decided to take a chance.

My husband, a PGT Fine Arts, and I had just about finished our notice period when the pandemic struck in March 2020. We had resigned from Etawah school and the Siliguri school, which we were supposed to join from new academic session, closed down like many other institutions. Between two stools, we fell to the ground.

Manthu Roy with some of his artworks

There was a time in March when I felt I was close to despair as I didn’t know what future was in store for my child, who was barely six months old. Our savings were dwindling. Given the strict lockdown, we couldn’t even go to our parents. Those were very difficult days from March to June. We had built up an atmosphere for art appreciation in Etawah but it couldn’t provide us even online classes so that we could earn money from it.

ALSO READ: ‘Virus Took Away My Job, Not My Resolve’

Some of my husband’s students had got placed in premier institutes like NIFT (Kolkata), NID (Ahmedabad) etc. and they kept us motivated to carry on. Manthu and I flew from Etawah to Siliguri the first chance we got and moved in with my elder sister and her husband who also stay in Siliguri.

We managed to get a few online classes but the pandemic has been hard on everyone financially and learning art is not on top of people’s priority. Thus online classes haven’t been very fruitful financially. We have been networking actively on social media, but between household chores, caring for a young baby, doing artwork because you also need to keep on creating work to show after networking, it hasn’t been easy.

Rimpa Ghatak and Manthu Roy

Now, in October we hope something moves for us. It has been nearly seven months without work now. The school at Siliguri that we were supposed to join has been really nice to us and keeps us updated about the state of things.

Art has kept us sane during the pandemic as it has kept many other people sane during the pandemic. So many people have learnt new art forms during the lockdown. It is perhaps time India began to appreciate its artists and help them thrive, especially in the new scenario. We are all in this together, right? Wish us luck!

Covid Is A Crisis But Also An Opportunity For Indian Media

A huge fall-out of the COVID pandemic has been the impact on Indian mainstream media. With overall economic activity declining, one of the first factors to have affected the media is the sharp drop in advertising, the revenue from which is the mainstay of Indian media outlets, particularly print. The fall in advertising revenue has been so huge that leading Indian media brands have resorted to many drastic measures to reduce their costs. Print publications, already reeling from slowing advertising revenues, have been the worst hit. In several newsrooms across the country, this has meant retrenchments and salary cuts, and, in many cases, both.

How bad is the situation? WARC, a London-based market intelligence agency, estimates that global advertising spend could fall by 8.1% ($49.6 billion) to $563 billion this year because of big cuts in investment across product and services categories. According to WARC’s projections, which are based on analysis of data from 96 countries, traditional media—cinema, outdoor advertising, newspapers, magazines, radio and TV–will be hit the hardest. In North America, which accounts for nearly 40% of global adspend, advertising revenues are estimated to decline by 3.7% ($8.5%). In Asia-Pacific, it is set to fall by 7.7% ($14.4 billion); in Europe, the forecast says the drop will be 12.2% ($18.1 billion).

ALSO READ: How Coronavirus Will Change Our Lives

Interestingly, while in most markets the adspends are trending negatively, in India, according to WARC’s data, adspends will still grow in 2020, not by a lot but a little. In 2019, advertising revenues in India grew by 5%; WARC estimates that in 2020, it could grow by 0.7% to a total of $9.4 billion. This is significant in a global scenario where nearly every large market is set to shrink.

It could be too early to assess the full impact of the ongoing pandemic. For one, it is still raging. And in India, particularly in dense urban hotspots, despite a lockdown imposed in late March, infections have been spreading. And the resurgence of a second phase of outbreaks cannot be ruled out. Yet, there could be a glimmer of hope in the Indian media landscape. Where other comparable markets are shrinking, adspends in India are still set to grow.

India’s print media publications have been hit severely and the quick response to that has been the recent bouts of layoffs, wage cuts and, in many cases, measures to cut costs by reducing the size (or pages) of publications. The fact is that print media in India was already in dire straits: advertising from some of the biggest sectors such as education, real estate and financial services had begun shrinking long before the COVID pandemic began. Partly it was because of sluggish activity in these sectors but also because many advertisers moved online, which can be more cost-effective for them.

Indian publications, including the biggest media groups in the country have been grappling with the challenge they face from online media for more than a decade now. Every publication has an online presence but few have been able to work out business models that could work. Paywalls and subscription-led models have largely not been successful because it is a very small proportion of readers who are willing to pay significant amounts to read publications online. And, although online advertising is growing, the revenues are still nowhere near the levels that could cover the costs of maintaining large newsrooms.

ALSO READ: Get Ready For New Normal Post-Corona Times

Newsrooms at many Indian publications are huge in terms of the number of journalists employed. These are fixed costs that are high and require revenues commensurate with those. Indian newspapers have cover prices that are low. For instance, the price of a newspaper hardly covers the cost being delivered to a reader’s door and is a piffling amount compared to the cost of producing and printing it. This has been the principal bane of Indian print media. As a result, it is difficult to charge readers to read online when they are used to getting news/content at dirt cheap prices.

Interestingly, however, the ongoing crisis could be the wake-up call that Indian media, particularly print publications, direly need. Even if the salary and job cuts may be knee-jerk reactions that smack of short-termism—after all, the economy is likely to bounce back after a while and sectors such as healthcare, well-being, and e-commerce could be new advertising sources—the current crisis is probably an opportune time for Indian media to re-strategise.

ALSO READ: Misery And Hope In Covid-19 Days

It is a time for media owners to introspect and find new ways of providing content. Specialised online multi-media publications that target specific interest groups is one avenue that could be explored. There could be many ways to do that. A few to ponder: reducing the size of bloated newsrooms and replacing them with smaller ones with professionals equipped with higher area expertise; hyper-local online publications that address smaller areas within cities or suburbs; more investments in multimedia content production capabilities; and collaborations between media brands.

Therefore, for Indian media this COVID-induced downcycle could be the source of opportunities. Opportunities to spot new sectors and trends that could emerge out of the changes in social behaviour; opportunities to use online platforms, including social media more effectively; and, of course, opportunities to take a close and hard look at junking the past and thinking of new ways to conduct the business of content generation and distribution.

Janta Delivery

‘Creating Jobs, Making Profit & Keeping People Safe’

Shiv Bansal, 25, a finance professional in Bengaluru, went to Siliguri to look after his parents when Covid-19 struck. In a week, he launched a start-up

I was born and brought up in Siliguri, West Bengal. But after my honours graduation from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University, I took up a job in Bengaluru with an investment bank. When the Covid-19 broke out and a lockdown was imposed, I lost no time in travelling to my native place to see my parents are not inconvenienced during this crisis; both are above 60.

I had been asked to work from home, and therefore Siliguri was as good as Bengaluru with the help of an internet network. Being at home for three days during the lockdown, I realised that procuring essential groceries was a difficult task in towns like Siliguri.

This happened when my parents asked me to get groceries from the local kirana store. Used to online delivery apps, I looked for home delivery services in my location on the Internet but, to my surprise, I couldn’t find any.

ALSO READ:  ‘How I Turned (Dining) Tables On Lockdown’

I made a list of things to buy and went to the local grocery store. There I found myself surrounded by a small crowd of buyers who had laid seize to the small shop, completely defeating the purpose of social distancing and putting the buyers at a contagion risk.

This is where the idea of a hyperlocal home delivery system popped up in my head. I searched the internet and news sites to find out that multiple delivery agents in Siliguri had been dealing with unemployment due to reduced food orders. Many were contemplating going back to their villages. 

This is where I saw an opportunity. The skilled manpower was available and so was the demand for home delivery. I only needed to setup a network with logistics. I seized the moment.

I pulled together a five-member team and sorted out operations. I named this start-up Janta Delivery, a hyperlocal doorstep service that would take care of the last-mile logistics of groceries and other essentials.

ALSO READ: ‘My Kids Turned Chefs During Lockdown’

In small towns, the network of kirana stores is very strong. People have confidence in the quality of products supplied by their selected stores in their locality. Hence, to source our supply we collaborated with a few famous stores of the town who had the goodwill of the residents here in terms of the quality.

The model is quite simple. Customers place their order by sending a WhatsApp text on a number (+91-76022-50045, in our case) or through our website. Once the order is received, it is sent to the respective store and our team coordinates with them for order preparation. Once the order is prepared, the nearest delivery agent is informed to pick up the order along with the bill and pays for it upfront.

The agent then reaches the customer, hands over the bill made by the network store, receives the payment along with a ₹50 delivery charge and hands over the ordered items to the customer. All the coordination is done over phone calls or Whatsapp texts. 

We are currently doing more than 40 orders per day. We expect this to increase as the word spreads and those who wish to stay indoors during the pandemic join our customers list. The best part is I can handle the team along with my assigned work-from-home assignments.

No, so far I have not thought about any future plans once the things return to normal. But, right now my team is focused on keeping the current operations smooth so that we can meet the needs of people in Siliguri and keep them safe. The work is monetarily rewarding as well as fulfilling. My aspiration in life is to use my skills and experience to solve problems that improve people’s lives. I love plugging existing gaps to build sustainable solutions.


‘It Is Humiliating, But I Accept Food Donations For Kids’

Sarvesh Kumar, 29, a factory guard in Greater Noida, wasn’t paid his two-month salary due to the lockdown. He finds living on charity humiliating but has accepted it to feed his family

I never thought I would see such days in my life when I would need donated food to survive. Not long ago, I had registered myself with a private security agency in Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh). The agency deputed me to a private factory as a guard. My wife and two young children – one is three-year old and another one-year – also settled with me. Then this virus outbreak and the sudden lockdown turned our lives upside down.

When the factory downed shutters, and I saw migrant labourers leaving for their native places, I too planned to back to my native Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh. However, I was yet to receive my salary and other dues from the contractor. Initially, my supervisor kept delaying the payments at one or the other pretext. But when I ran out of even daily ration, and asked him for my money firmly, he told me he doesn’t have the money to pay. Nor could he commute in the lockdown to provide me food items.

ALSO READ: The Invisible Indians In Pandemic

When I told him about my little children going hungry, he became abusive. I know this is a crime to default on an employee’s salary, so I went to the local police chowki to file a written complaint but all in vain. The policemen hounded me out and told me not to come out and stay put wherever I was till the lockdown ended.

It was when I was returning from the police station disheartened, some apartment dwellers spotted me walking in the sun. They asked about my situation and offered some packets of biscuits and water. As I narrated my story, they even arranged some dry ration for my family.

ALSO READ: ‘I Don’t Know How I Will Pay EMIs, Fees’

I never wanted to live on charity but this situation is critical. I don’t have land or farms back home. If I can find work, I am ready to labour for 24 hours to feed my children. It is humiliating when I see my children cry with hunger and I have little to offer.

Security guards of nearby industries often help me with food and milk. I don’t want it for free as it makes me feel like a beggar. Yet, I am accepting all such donations because of my children. I don’t know for how long I will survive like this. I want to work and earn money. 

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Has Made Me A Beggar’

When the lockdown was imposed, I never thought such a situation would arise. I am grateful to the people who are helping me but I want to request the government to help people like me feed their children. I want this lockdown to end soon. I am worried about my children. If this continues, people like me will be forced to go out on streets in search of food.

Job Loss In Covid-19 lockdown

‘I Got Fired. Don’t Know How I’ll Pay EMIs, Kids Fee’

Bikash Tripathy, an IT professional, sees unimaginable miseries for him in store after he lost his job along with a dozen other colleagues amid Coronavirus crisis

I was employed as a vice-president at Canvas IT Solutions, an information & technology group in Noida which works for US-based projects. I was living happily with my family in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. I recently bought a flat at Crossings Republic, the loan instalments of which are quiet hefty.

In the last week of March, when the lockdown was imposed, most employees in our company were asked to work from home. The management initially decided to send many employees on unpaid leave. Since I was part of the policy decision-making team, in my capacity as the vice-president, I resisted such a move. Little did I realise that such a step would cost me my own job.

It first appeared that the company has resolved the matter, as I, like most other employees, was asked to work from home. I was confident that we would be able to generate business for the company. However, on April 10, I received an email from my office, about termination of my contract. A dozen other employees had received a similar notice. I tried to contact the company management through calls, messages and emails but all in vain. The management is still not reachable to us.

ALSO READ: How Coronavirus Will Change Our Lives

In the termination letter, the company stated that I will get the salary for one month. I was ready for salary deduction, but my requests heeded no attention. After this month, I don’t know how I will manage my expense.

I have a house loan, a personal loan and I have to pay the school fee for my only daughter. My elderly parents are stuck in my hometown in Odisha since the lockdown and I am not able to help them. Eighty five per cent of my earnings are spent on liabilities. So frankly, I have no idea how I will manage these liabilities. My job was the only source of income for my family.

In the lockdown, no company is hiring. So there are few chances of my finding suitable occupation. I cannot sleep in the nights since then. I am locked inside my apartment and can do nothing much.

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Has Turned Me Into A Beggar

I understand that staying inside will save us from the Coronavirus pandemic but what will happen to people like us if there is no support from the government. With no earnings, the savings will not last for long. I am requesting the government to help people like me, but I have little hope.

The lockdown crisis and pandemic would be a matter of months; hence a salary deduction for all employees would have saved many jobs. But the company did not think that way. The rules for employees safeguard are tilted in favour of employers in India. I such difficult times for the entire world, the most disheartening thing is to lose one’s job without any prior notice.