The covid-19 pandemic 2020

India’s sudden national lockdown in response to the covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact in the cities and created anxiety and uncertainty for Rojiroti in rural Bihar. In the event the outcomes of both virus and lockdown have been less severe than we feared in the locations where we work. Key events of the farming year – the wheat harvest in March April and rice planting in June - have very fortunately not been affected by covid-19  A summary of events and our response to them during the lockdown is below.

March 22-23  India’s national lockdown to limit spread of the covid19 virus announced. Wage-workers in the main cities were the most severely affected: hundreds of thousands immediately lost their jobs and source of income, and began to move back to their rural homes.
         CPSL, following government guidelines, closed down the regular meetings of Self-help groups (SHG), its Field Office, and processing of regular loan applications. This left Rs 235,000 (the day’s loan repayments) in the hands of village-level coordinators, who They were advised to use this money for emergency loans requested by SHG members.

April 9-10  Following consultation with Rojiroti UK, CPSL offered a repayment and interest ‘holiday’ to borrowers. Staff members agreed to a 50% reduction in their normal monthly payments. Rojiroti UK made a grant of GBP 4,000 to CPSL in order to fund the repayment holiday.

Late March – late May  CPSL aimed to secure the safety of its staff, issuing them with masks and instructing them to observe distancing when meeting with SHG members. Also to encouraged SHG members to maintain distancing when outside their homes.
Federal and State Government support available to some Rojiroti SHG borrowers: an additional 6kg of food rations issued by the Public Distribution System to those classified as below poverty line (BPL), cash payments of INR 1,000 to senior citizens, widows and disabled.
        Emergency loans issued successfully by CPSL: applications are made to co-ordinators or direct by phone to CPSL Field or Patna Office, and payment made by CPSL to a bank account accessible to the borrower (a family member’s or neighbour’s). Where medical treatment is involved (the most common use of emergency loan) payment can be made direct to the hospital/clinic.

June 1-7  First phase of easing lockdown began. By now some of the city workers who had migrated home to their villages were known to be in CPSL’s catchment area, but there was no sign of (severe) covid-19 infection. The monsoon started on time so work by the families of most SHG members to prepare land for planting rice began.

June 8  Careful monitoring of the situation led CPSL to resume its work in the field. The Field Office re-opened, and co-ordinators encouraged SHG meetings to start again.  Loan applications resumed very quickly as did loan and interest repayments by existing borrowers, many of whom were anxious not to fall into arrears.

June 15 onwards  Large (up to Rs 20,000) loan applications, as well as small, now agreed, and repayments continued. An important result of this is that CPSL’s revolving fund has not been depleted significantly and loan applications can be met as before, without stringent limitations having to be introduced.

July 5  The regular Rojiroti open monthly meeting was held for the first time since March, with only 8 participants (rather than the usual 30-plus) all keeping at safe distance.

Mid July onwards  Nationally in India covid-19 is spreading although less seriously in Bihar than in some other States.  There have been local emergency lockdowns in Patna town, but the villages in which CPSL works remain not affected severely by the virus. Our normal activities are continuing, including SHG meetings, but no open meeting was held in August.