Spatialising Urban Vulnerability: Perspectives from COVID-19 Food Relief in Delhi

Gautam Bhan, Hridbijoy Chakraborty, Parushya | 2022


In the 2020 COVID-19 first wave and its attendant lockdowns, a combination of lost income and restricted mobility created large scale hunger among urban residents. The Government of Delhi attempted to respond through an E-Coupon system that provided dry rations to those outside the Public Distribution System under India’s National Food Security Act 2013. This paper argues that the E-Coupon programme represents an invaluable archive through which to assess both the extent and geography of vulnerability in contemporary Delhi as represented by food insecurity.

Using a dataset of E-Coupon applications from over 17 lac households in Delhi, the paperassesses vulnerability in two ways. First, it measures unmet demand, i.e. the number of households outside the PDS system that, arguably, are vulnerable enough to have been included within it. In this, it allows an assessment of social protection based on vulnerability rather than a static, narrow measure of income poverty. Second, it spatialises this data at both known scales of urban governance – ward, assembly constituency, and district – as well as at ‘locality’ level, exploring a lesser-known administrative scale used by the Food and Civil Supplies department. Together, the paper then describes both the extent of unmet demand, as well as explores its spatial distribution within the city, drawing implications and learnings for the design of urban social protection systems.