India’s Covid-19 surge robs 23 million jobs, punctures economy

A woman holds a child and waits with other migrant workers outside a railway station hoping to be able to travel to their home states, in Jammu, India, Friday, May 22, 2020.
A woman holds a child and waits with other migrant workers outside a railway station hoping to be able to travel to their home states, in Jammu, India, Friday, May 22, 2020. AP - Channi Anand

Almost 23 million jobs have vanished in India during a disastrous Covid-19 surge that has killed tens of thousands in a matter of weeks. Millions also slipped deeper into poverty but experts said part of the problem could be solved if the economy was opened up.


The dire numbers came as India added 132,788 fresh infections, taking the national tally to 28.3 million coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

The death toll also rose to 335,102 with 3,207 new fatalities posted in the past 24 hours, according to official figures.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), which publishes monthly unemployment data, said the job market took a direct hit in the second surge which killed 160,000 people in eight weeks and forced various public restrictions.

Second wave gobbles jobs

Mahesh Vyas, CMIE chief executive, said 7.35 million jobs were lost in April and another 15.3 million vanished last month.

“This is really very high and this is clearly the impact of the lockdown,” he said as he pegged India’s unemployment rate at 11.9 percent.

That figure was as high as 23.5 percent in May 2020 when a nationwide lockdown wiped out tens of millions of jobs and pushed Asia’s third largest economy into recession for the first time in around 25 years.

Vyas however argued day workers may not find it as difficult to get back their jobs as those who were employed in the “formal sector”.

97 percent of Indians ‘poorer’

A CMIE survey of 175,000 households indicated 97 percent of Indians were poorer compared to a year ago, sparking skirmishes between the ruling BJP party and its opponents.

“I will call it as a government failure wave because the government has not been able to vaccinate the people,” said Gaurav Vallabh, spokesman of India’s main opposition Congress party.

“And because of the second wave, our unemployment numbers are going up consistently,” he said on Wednesday.

Shrinking GDP

Government estimates released Monday showed India’s GDP shrink 7.3 percent in Covid-battered 2020-2021 to 1.52 trillion euros from 1.65 trillion euros the previous financial year.

The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.6 percent from January to March but the Covid surge – which left searing images of crematoriums working non-stop – stonewalled the gain.

In March, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast 12.6 percent growth in India's financial year to March 2022.

P. N. Vijay, who formerly headed the ruling party’s economic unit, urged the BJP government to stand by the urban poor before a projected third virus wave hit India.

“The short-term solution is clearly the direct transfer (of money) to the urban poor like we have done for the rural poor to get unemployment in urban areas down at least nine to ten percent,” Vijay said.

 “It won’t cost that much,” he told local TV.

Crowded billionaires’ club

But as the country struggled with its teeming poor, 40 more Indians walked into the local billionaires' club, taking the number of those on the exclusive list to 177.

Mukesh Ambani held on as India’s richest with 68 billion euros. His company posted a 24-percent jump in fortunes and climbed one notch to become the 8th richest globally, according to the Hurun Global Rich List of the world’s billionaires.

Gautam Adani, India’s number two, saw his wealth nearly doubling to 26 billion euros in 2020.

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