Lessons for Social Protection from the COVID-19 Lockdowns Report 1 of 2: State Relief

Gautam Bhan, Antara Rai Chowdhury, Neha Margosa, Kinjal Sampat, Nidhi Sohane | 2020


This report seeks to use COVID-19 and its attendant lockdowns in India as a crucial moment to assess the protective aspect of  social protection, asking three interrelated questions:

First, what do the immediate relief measures put into place to cope with the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdowns tell us about the current state of social protection systems? Second, how did these measures effectively target and deliver relief in complex and constrained situations such as the lockdowns? Third, going forward, what lessons does this set of immediate relief measures offer not just for medium-term recovery but for designing, building and improving social protection systems?

We chose to focus on three kinds of relief that are closely related to social protection: food, cash transfer and labour protections, analysing 181 announcements between March 20 and May 31, 2020, covering the four phased lockdowns announced by the Government of India. The archive focuses on announcements, circulars, notifications, and orders about these three kinds of relief.

Across them, we employ three key analytical frames that structure the report; identification, defining entitlements, and delivery mechanisms – key components of the actually existing practice of any social protection system.

The first part focuses on identification, looking closely at eligibility criteria to be part of a relief scheme, verification processes, as well as the use of databases to direct relief. The second part looks at defining entitlements themselves, assessing what was given as relief, and consider the factors that led to this determination. The third part then looks at delivery mechanisms, focusing on the modes, processes, and actors responsible for ensuring the promised entitlement actually reached the right person within an appropriate time frame.

Relief measures implemented during the lockdown are a rich archive against which to assess each. These measures both continued, used and expanded existing systems of design and delivery but also innovated with “temporary” measures that created new categories of recipients, new forms of entitlements, and new mechanisms of delivery. It is crucial that we learn from both the continuities and innovations of the social protection measures implemented in this time in order to improve and expand these systems in a post-COVID world.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.24943/LSPCL11.2020