India’s Social Policy Response to Covid-19: Temporary Relief in a Rigid Welfare Landscape

This essay summarises the broad contours and key characteristics of the Indian government’s social policy response to the global Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing nationwide lockdown. The principal strategy of the Indian government was to implement a large and at times bewildering array of temporary relief measures by ordinances after adjournment of the Indian parliament in March 2020. Not a single new piece of legislation was implemented in direct response to the Covid-19 crisis, although recent federal labour law reforms are likely to shape the Indian social and economic recovery. Collectively, the Indian government’s relief measures have not been able to adequately alleviate the Covid-19-related social pressures and risks. While there is still a dearth of adequate statistical data to assess how well the relief measures were implemented, the initial picture suggests that the Indian government’s response to the global Covid-19 pandemic prioritised economic and fiscal measures, relied on the existing inadequate safety net, and was not timely enough to support millions of inter-state migrants. The public health crisis and ensuing nationwide lockdown have not resulted in a path-breaking trajectory away from the entrenched Indian welfare paradigm.