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India: In a predicament

News from 2020-06-26

The Indian government ended the lockdown at the beginning of June in order to prevent the economy from crashing and large sections of the population from drowning in poverty. Since then, the number of COVID 19-infected people has been rising. KfW Office Director Christoph Kessler explains what this means in everyday life and for the work on the ground and how the situation has developed.

"I was the only customer at the hairdresser's," reports Christoph Kessler, who had his grey hair mane restored to shape after three months of lockdown. "Normally, three or four customers are served at once in the tiny shop here in the quarter, while others wait on a bench." Taking every precaution - masks, disposable gowns, disinfection of all equipment - the hairdresser went to work, lamenting his grief to the customer. He and one of his brothers were the only ones in the family of eleven who had an income. Due to the closure of his shop during the lockdown, his income now also fell away, while the rent and all other costs continued to be due. "Yet the hairdresser certainly belongs to the lower middle class," Kessler points out.

empty streets
Due to the lockdown the streets in Delhi are empty as never before.

The loss of income was even worse for the millions of day labourers working in construction, catering or transport. At the beginning of the lockdown, many of them had returned from the big cities to their distant home villages, partly on foot and partly in overcrowded buses. "And for the time being, they stay there, because the fear of infection is very great," explains Kessler.

For this reason many of KfW's construction projects have also come to a standstill. Whether it is the construction of high-voltage power lines for the green energy corridors, the construction of solar plants, sewage disposal or new metro lines - there is a shortage of workers, and many construction sites are deserted. On the few active construction sites, all those involved have to have their fever measured in the morning and give their contact details.

The pandemic also has an impact on the KfW office. With the exception of an assistant who fetches mail from the office once a week, all 16 employees are permanently in the home office. "The digital infrastructure here is very well developed, so video conferences are generally not a problem," reports Christoph Kessler. But the employees of the ministries are also in the home office, not all of them have good Internet access at home. Kessler also misses the informal, personal exchange that is so much appreciated in India. "It was a different quality of meeting each other when physical presence was still possible," says Kessler.

In the meantime, the Indian health care system has reached its breaking point. "Conditions such as those in Lombardy are reported, the hospitals are at the limit or beyond," says Kessler.

Slum vor indischer Großstadt
Christoph Kessler, head of the KfW Delhi office, is also currently working from home.

With the lifting of the lockdown, the number of infected people is currently on a sharp rise, but Kessler expects the peak of the disease to be reached soon. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of people in Delhi are already infected.

"The Indian government is ultimately faced with an unsolvable task," says the KfW office director. The delay in the outbreak of the pandemic had been bought at the price of a radical lockdown, which had driven millions of people to ruin. The government was severely criticised for this. As a result, it had to reopen the economy. Kessler emphasized: "What is mentioned far too little in Germany, however, are the aid programmes that have been started on a large scale, even if they do not yet reach everyone".

Dr. Charlotte Schmitz

Report on the situation in India (status May)