OTHERS

Will migrants benefit from the Centre’s measures?

What role will State governments play? How will the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme help?

The story so far: In her second tranche of COVID-19 relief package announcements, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the steps taken by the government for migrants and farmers during the national lockdown, including free ration for stranded workers. Acknowledging the significance of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) during the pandemic, she said it had helped provide jobs to returning workers in rural areas and advised States to continue the process in the monsoon season as well. Migrant workers, the urban poor and small farmers are the targeted beneficiaries of these announcements.

Why and how have migrant workers suffered during the lockdown?

One of the most severely affected sections of the population due to the extended lockdown has been migrant workers, especially those in urban areas across the country. The recent Periodic Labour Force Survey conducted in 2017 by the National Sample Survey Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, had estimated that there were around 1,49,53,750 urban workers who had vulnerable jobs. These workers included helpers in a household enterprise and who did not receive a regular salary and casual labourers who received daily wages; besides this, the number considers only those in the bottom 50% of the wealth pyramid in 2017-18, based on their monthly per capita expenditure. This number extended to an estimated 2.5 crore people if those who had salaried jobs but did not receive any paid leave and other benefits were included. Migrant workers numbered more than 81 lakh people among this segment.

Once the national lockdown was announced, it was this segment of the population which was hurt the most as many of them lost their jobs (the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, or CMIE, estimates unemployment to have reached 24.2%, with urban unemployment being 26%) and had barely any income to tide over the lockdown. Many migrant workers sought to return home to their home towns, but the absence of transport prevented them from doing so. State governments were supposed to set up relief camps and shelters providing food and other amenities for these workers, but implementation was skewed (69% of the overall shelters and camps were situated only in Kerala, according to an affidavit submitted by the Union government to the Supreme Court in early April).

With increasing distress, many migrant workers took recourse to their own means of transport to go home — many had no other option but to walk long distances — before the central government finally notified the start of services of “Shramik trains” to transport them. Migrant workers have continued to travel to escape distress conditions at their places of work and in the absence of any social security net.

What has been announced for migrant workers?

The Finance Minister acknowledged the significance of the MGNREGS in providing jobs to workers returning to rural areas. The government noted that work off-take increased in May. This followed instructions from the Centre to restart the scheme after work hours fell drastically in April. The Centre has now advised States/Union Territories to provide work through the scheme and to extend this to the monsoon season as well in providing jobs in plantations, horticulture, livestock-related work. The CMIE’s latest unemployment survey report also found that while various segments (small traders, salaried employees, entrepreneurs, etc) have suffered significant job losses, the number of farmers in the survey had increased, indicating that farm work has been a source of livelihood during the lockdown.

The government has promised a free supply of 5 kg of foodgrain per person and 1 kg channa per family per month for two months, for those migrants who are neither beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (2013), or NFSA, nor possess State cards. The government expects eight crore migrants to benefit from this scheme and the Centre will spend Rs. 3,500 crore on this. States will be in charge of implementation and distribution. The inclusion of these estimated eight crore beneficiaries will bring the total number of people under the Public Distribution System coverage close to the level legally mandated by the NFSA of 67% of the population. Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan has said that if the number exceeds eight crore, the Centre is ready to provide additional foodgrain for free supply but it would leave it to States to identify genuine beneficiaries. “States can directly supply free ration at shelter camps, or issue distress coupons or adopt any suitable method for free distribution of the food grains and channa ,” Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey clarified at a briefing on Saturday.

What about the One Nation One Ration

Card scheme?

The Centre has also said that the One Nation One Ration Card scheme will be enhanced by assuring national portability of 83% by August 2020 and 100% by March 2021. The scheme should allow migrant workers to access food in States other than that of their permanent residence. But concerns remain about availability of ration in shops to allow for distribution to migrant workers as well. In places where the scheme has been implemented so far, the utilisation of the scheme has been very low (800 workers on an average in a month before the lockdown and an average of only 200 workers during the lockdown).

Besides these steps for immediate relief to the workers, the government has also announced that it will launch a scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) to convert government funded housing in the cities into affordable rental housing complexes under PPP mode through a concessionaire.

A special credit facility with liquidity of up to Rs. 5,000 crore has been announced for street vendors through a special scheme that will facilitate easy credit and will be launched in a month.

Will small farmers benefit?

Among steps announced to ease credit for small farmers, the government said that the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) will extend an additional refinance support of Rs. 30,000 crore for crop loan requirement of rural cooperative banks and regional rural banks.

The government expects eight crore migrants to get free foodgrain for two months. The Centre will spend Rs. 3,500 crore on this intervention. States will be in charge of implementation

and distribution

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