LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship is an Online National Summer School Program, a Two- Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness & Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, from June-August 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Pandemic and Its Impact” was held on the 12th July 2023 by Dr Glyn Williams, Reader, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield, UK
IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted the second session of LPPYF- Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship, a two-month online immersive legal awareness & action research certificate training course and internship program, on 14th June, 2023. Savleen kaur, researcher at IMPRI, kicked off the session by welcoming the attendees & introducing the panelists.
The session was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Distinguished Professor, IMPRI. Prof Vibhuti Patel began this session with a warm expression of gratitude towards team IMPRI. She then proceeded with a recap of the takeaways from the session 1 and 2 of the LPPYF program. She informed that session 3 is an important discussion on “Pandemic and Its Impact” by Dr Glyn Williams, Reader, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield, UK
Impact of Pandemic
The session began with a brief discussion on how the pandemic shaped the lives of people who are governing and those being governed. For the governing side, the pandemic invoked a sense of exceptionality and hurdles in performing governance. The government and policymakers had to perceive real data in a limited time and make critical decisions about the same. Besides these challenges, governments and institutions faced capacity issues in almost all perceivable sectors i.e. health, education, etc. On the other hand, those being governed were faced with different elements and actions by the state which were never experienced before. This not only changed the dynamic between the state and citizens but also led to strained relationships between them.
Following this he stressed upon the situation that actually took place during the pandemic. How the state responses often stressed disease control over welfare measures given the uncertain nature of the pandemic which threatened the very survival of the population. These lockdowns exacerbated poverty and inequality within different strata of society as household incomes diminished and people were pushed into greater personal debt while nations also feared increasing national-level debt. Additionally, the state capacity was stretched and overwhelmed and new multi-scalar ways of governance emerged within several countries. These situations raised a set of stressful questions that led to dilemmas among everyone.
Action and Response
Why and how did different state and national governments react differently? And since governments are reacting in so many different ways and if poverty and inequality have been exacerbated who fell through safety nets and why? If governments were stretched and overwhelmed, how did they react to enhance and expand their state capacity? How did these dire situations change the interface between states and society? And lastly, have exceptional governance measures been embedded for a longer term?
Dr.Williams further shared his own project with his co-authors where they conducted a three city comparison between Chennai, Ahmedabad, and Thiruvananthapuram. The research is unfolded in 2 phases: the first phase is a document-based analysis during the peak of the pandemic which included looking into government orders, news reports, and academic reports to find the effect of the pandemic on everyday life. Phase 2 of the same includes detailed interviews of key resource individuals including community leaders, frontline workers, household members, and more.
The pandemic stressed the importance of creating changes in the welfare system to cater to the exceptional demands. A state apparatus that is well networked and responsive to social needs, yet highly rational and responsive is needed. The underfinancing of municipal corporations and underpowering of municipal governments is another crucial challenge for India as a whole. The project also includes a bottom-up approach to see how poorer sections of the society engage with different organs of the state and if they are receiving welfare or relief services. Another important element is improvisation and how the state apparatus innovate and changes in response to the exceptional COVID-19 conditions and what risks and costs might be associated with this change.
He further focused on the national picture in response to the pandemic and the two legislations that guided the actions. First is the Disaster management act 2005 and Epidemic diseases act 1897 which have not been well suited for the needs of the pandemic. These acts which are mainly control and command focused led to a poor national response. Additionally, then centralised resources including the PM-CARE fund were passed onto the states for their implementation which led to inefficient implementation and usage. Focus was also laid upon national welfare packages and incentives which though had a large budgetary outlay turned out to be small amounts in terms of per capita allocation.
Dr. Williams then discussed the response of Kerela to the pandemic which not just recognized COVID-19 as a disease con troll challenge very early on but also as a welfare crisis for the state. It utilized its already set up decentralized government units and ward-level rapid response teams to coordinate implementation at the state level. One advantage that Kerela possessed in comparison to the other states was its already well-built infrastructure due to the previously experienced outbreak of the Nipah virus and violent flooding in 2018.
A further discussion followed which included the different responses of neighborhoods in Kerela including Rajaji Nagar, Poonthura, and VJP Nagar. Comparing these three parallel cases local political conditions vary but they all have one thing in common, that is, a good delivery of public distribution system, cash benefits, etc.
Next, the extensive public distribution system played a major role in Tamil Nadu/ Chennai. Amma Canteens, War rooms, gate meetings, fever surveillance workers, and GCC volunteers were some of the main reasons for successful mitigation during the pandemic. A deeper dive was taken into the neighborhoods of Tamil Nadu which included Korukkupet, Triplicane, and Perumbakkam. One thing that came to notice was that those communities that lay outside the city limits and beyond the urban infrastructure were largely bereft and faced multiple hardships during the pandemic.
Lastly, the limited welfare response in Gujrat/ Ahmedabad was discussed wherein the government tried to provide additional support through its PDS system but didn’t necessarily take steps to improve its efficiency. Though the government initiated the redeployment of state workers such as ASHA workers, and Anganwadi workers but its presence felt much less than in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. So, embedded autonomy proved to be weaker here as compared to the other states. Furthermore, the pandemic responses Amraiwadi, Jamalpur, and Ganesh Nagar were delved deeper into.
In conclusion of the presentation, the community-level organizational capacity differed significantly across the 3 states. The political visibility and wider connections within the community matter and welfare measures are weakened when the communities are already stigmatized or isolated. Also, Dr. Williams explained how state capacity isn’t simply about the monetary inflow but the past decisions and investments that are taken. With regards to urban governance, welfare delivery isn’t frictionless but requires infrastructure, and commitment is needed to plan for the most marginalized and excluded.
The session was concluded by a conclusory and thanking note by Dr. Rumi Aijaz where he thanked Dr. Williams for sharing his findings and how it provided a great insight into how cities were managed during the pandemic including its challenges and victories. At last, a brief QnA session took place which posed questions on resilience of the nation during the pandemic and how India fared in comparison to other developing and developed nations. With these extensive and fascinating discussions, the session concluded.
Savleen Kaur is a Research Intern at IMPRI.
Read more session reports for Urban Policy & City Planning: