Migrant labourers mustn’t slip through the cracks in welfare schemes

With government announcing a Rs.1.75 lakh crore “Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan” scheme to address the needs of the poor and migrant workers, it is important for governments to hit the ground running. Across states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Maharashtra an army of migrant labour is on the move, on foot, back to their native village fearful that cities and industrial clusters will forget them.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on people to stay put where they are and to employers to keep employees on their rolls. Yet firms are shutting down and letting people go and landlords are evicting out of work tenants. The direct benefit transfer schemes which will transfer cash into accounts of farmers, poor women, seniors, disabled, etc, will be the most effective in this situation.

Yet the immediate challenge is to help those who cannot access their bank accounts at this time or the rations. Most migrants will fall in this category. Getting community kitchens going is the only option. Yesterday some of Delhi’s homeless night shelters were overwhelmed by far greater numbers turning up for the lunch and dinner they served. The shutting down of religious establishments like langars which serve a large number of hungry isnt helping either. All this brings to the fore the difficulty of lockdowns. Some states also drafted their road transport corporation buses to ply labourers walking along highways.

In hindsight, government could have spared many people this agony by giving advance notice of the lockdown last week itself when the Janata Curfew was announced with much fanfare. While this could have helped many people get home, it would still have created chaos and potentially triggered a rise in Covid-19 cases. With resumption of transport no option, governments needs to quickly figure out how to feed hungry migrant citizens who will not be able to access the rations or the cash transfers.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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