ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unpacking India’s COVID-19 Social Assistance Package

To address the social impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the Government of India extended the scope and benefits of several existing social assistance programmes. This paper assesses who benefited, and to what extent, using administrative data from each of the main programmes included in the package. The analysis shows that implementation constraints, partial uptake, and substitution effects reduced the overall transfer of resources to households relative to budget allocations. There were also substantial disparities in the actual amounts transferred across states. Finally, a rural bias prevailed even though urban informal workers were probably the most affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

All views expressed in this paper and any errors are the authors’ own. They do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group (WBG) and its affiliated organisations or those of the executive directors of the WBG or their governments.

On 24 March 2020, the Government of India (GOI) ordered a nationwide lockdown, limiting the movement of 130 crore people, as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This caused a massive economic shock that threatened the livelihoods of the most vulnerable segments of the population. To mitigate the social impact of the lockdown, the GOI announced a relief package worth `1,70,000 crore—the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) (PIB 2020a). The swift policy response extended the scope and benefits of several existing social assistance programmes. Further, the government extended the duration of some schemes that had been initially planned for three months and expanded the package to include measures to boost rural employment for returning migrants (PIB 2020b). The result was a budget allocation that was nearly twice the size of the initial package.

This paper unpacks the PMGKY package to assess who benefited from it and to what extent. This is a challenging undertaking for several reasons. From an institutional point of view, the package consisted of a set of programmes that differed in their design and features, and for each of them, there was considerable variation in state-level implementation as well. From an economic point of view, not all households made use of their new entitlements, and those who did reported that some of the benefits replaced transfers they would have received otherwise. Finally, from an empirical perspective, the main constraint is the sparsity of real-time data on the actual benefits received by households with different characteristics and in different locations.

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Updated On : 28th Nov, 2022
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