Skip to main content

Increase relief package by 3-4 times, help migrants: Labour economists' letter to Modi

Counterview Desk
Addressed to prime minister Narendra Modi and state chief ministers, a petition drafted by experts associated with the Indian Society of Labour Economics has said that, as in any natural disaster, the governments’ capacity and preparedness to face the outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has to be augmented by that of civil society, as has been done in Kerala and Chhattisgarh.
Pointing out that nearly 10 to 15 million people, forced to migrate because of the sudden lockdown, particularly require urgent help, the memorandum, prepared by KP Kannan, Alakh Sharma, Ravi S Srivastava, with inputs from Ritu Dewan, Aasha Kapur Mehta, Nisha Srivastava, SK Thorat and Anjor Bhaskar, sought their intervention on the need to scale up the Rs 1.7 lakh crore package announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Text:

As the corona pandemic, and measures to contain it, unfold, we are witnessing a humanitarian and economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. The Central government has announced a Rs. 1.7 trillion package aimed at alleviation of the impact of the lockdown on the poor (Pradhan Mantri Gharib Kalyan Yojna) over the next three months. It is also heartening that a number of states have announced additional measures and relief packages varying in nature and scale.
These measures will have to be scaled up with immediate and unconditional financial and other support from the national government given the magnitude of the crisis that the country as a whole is facing. Therefore we appeal to the Government of India and all the State Governments to initiate urgent additional measures that are required to address critical gaps that exist in the short-term relief measures announced so far. These are listed below:

Immediate measures by governments to provide for food and subsistence requirements:

Cash and kind assistance, and food for the homeless and most distressed, is urgently required by the poor in the informal economy who have lost jobs and incomes. We propose the following:
  1. Cash Income Support: The stoppage of employment and incomes for those in the informal economy urgently necessitates cash income support. The Centre’s announcement of transferring Rs 500 per month to each Jan Dhan Yojna (JDY) woman account holder is grossly insufficient. The Centre and States together should try and ensure a minimum transfer over the next three months of at least Rs 6,000 per month with a major part borne by the Central Government. All households who do not have a tax payer or a formal worker should be eligible to receive the cash transfer through bank accounts. Assuming that about 20 crore households will require such assistance, the total quantum of assistance will be about Rs 3,60,000 crores over three months.
  2. Rations: There is a growing consensus among central/state governments that PDS rations be increased to ten kg per person per month and should also include other essentials – including pulses, oil, soaps, gur/sugar. The Central government has declared 5 kg free rations plus 1 kg free pulses as supplementary monthly ration. Many state governments have announced free basic or enhanced rations. We request all state governments may be asked provide free basic rations (with supplements) free of cost, so that the entire rations can be free for the eligible households. 
  3. As model employers, all central and state government establishments, statutory and public sector organisations should immediately announce that all contract and outsourced employees will continue to be paid full wages during the lockdown. Government of India should send a similar message to all incorporated private enterprises in this hour of survival crisis being faced by workers. 
  4. Some states have already announced increases in old age pensions and ex gratia transfers to workers, including construction workers. We welcome these steps as a good beginning. But States should advertise the mechanism they are following to put their announcement into practice. The Central government has also declared that it will issue a direction to all states to make ex gratia transfers to all construction workers registered under the Boards. This should be done immediately and all states should make immediate ex gratia payments to the registered construction workers through the Construction Workers’ Welfare Fund. All other Central Welfare Funds should be utilized to provide immediate assistance to other workers such as Bidi workers and similar sources should be utilized for other categories of unemployed workers. 
  5. In a time of an epochal crisis such as the present one, special effort has to be made to make assistance to be provided on a non-discriminatory basis, and covering those who for some reason have been wrongly excluded. Special efforts and drives should be carried out to include scheduled castes and tribes, persons of third gender, migrants etc. Not all poor households, particularly migrants, have functional bank accounts, and proper mechanisms need to be evolved on how cash assistance be designed for them. Similarly, special efforts should be put in place to identity and provide rations to landless households/individuals who do not have ration cards or whose ration cards have been deleted mistakenly and to identify and include persons who have been left out of the National Social Assistance Programme (PNSAP) list. 

Urgent steps to deal with stranded populations

  1. The sudden lockdown has created a serious humanitarian and public health crisis involving vulnerable migrant workers and their families. Casual migrant workers, particularly those in construction, manufacturing, and transport workers – who could number 50 to 60 lakh -- are highly impacted by the crisis and most want to head back immediately to their source villages, even under great odds. Many of them have accompanying family workers, so that this number is likely to spill over, in our judgement, to 10 to 15 million. If the lockout prolongs, migrant self-employed daily earners and informal regular wage workers may join these workers. Already lakhs of workers and their families, and also students, are on the roads, prepared to travel long distances. These numbers could mount if the lockdown extends.
  2. The Central government has directed that there should be no movement of migrants and that district and state boundaries be sealed. In our view, this will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis and may result in crowding and consequential serious public health issues. 
  3. We believe that migrants could be encouraged to stay back but not coerced. The facilities and space at the disposal of the Centre and the States should be utilized such that there is no crowding for migrants who stay back, and food and subsistence facilities should be made available. State Governments should immediately summon all facilities, public and private, for sheltering the migrant workers as well as to quarantine and create new treatment facilities. These could include all academic and public institutions such as schools and colleges, hotels, hostels, marriage halls, guest houses, and similar facilities. Government of India should also appeal to all places of worship to provide their facilities for health care and/or sheltering migrant and indigent population. 
  4. Many state governments including Kerala and Delhi have ramped up community feeding programmes for migrant and homeless populations. Kerala has already opened more than 4000 camps for sheltering the migrant workers. We would request all states should step in with similar measures. Government of India should announce that it will defray the cost of sheltering and feeding migrant workers and their families as a matter of national responsibility given their contribution to the national economy. The private sector should be asked to contribute to this effort generously. 
  5. The NDMA should immediately and urgently oversee a coordinated and coordinated arrangement for transporting migrant workers who are already on the road by special trains, buses, or trucks. This should be done on a war footing. The Government should extend the transport vehicles and personnel of the paramilitary forces to the affected State Governments. If necessary the help of the Army should be made available. In our view, migrants will be better off and safer in their home environments than if they are kept back in crowded and congested areas, separated from their families and communities. 
  6. Some state governments have imposed compulsory isolation of 14 days on all returnees in public shelters. We do not wish to comment on the desirability of putting all returnees under compulsory isolation in public facilities at this stage of disease transmission. In our view self-isolation at home under community supervision may be a better solution, if this is considered necessary to contain the spread of the pandemic. Source states should issue clear advisories on the safety and health of the returnees and the host populations and involve the PRIs and local bodies. 
  7. Dedicated multi-lingual help lines for migrants should be set up immediately in all states and committees should be set up with the participation of organisations having experience of working with migrant workers. In this connection, we have already noted the App developed and made available by the Government of Kerala (GoKDirect) with information provided in 6 languages. 
  8. The Special Disaster Relief Fund created by the Prime Minister should be used for providing assistance to the migrants and for facilitating their stay, transport, and safe relocation to their homes, as the case may be. 

Measures to ensure safe harvesting and post-harvesting activities in rural areas

We are already in the middle of the Rabi harvesting season when standing crops have to be harvested, processed, and sold. Some states have already issued notification declaring harvesting and post-harvesting activities, including mandi operations, as essential services. The Government of India has also issued a second addendum to the lockdown guidelines exempting essential farming related operations, including movement of machinery. 
About 20 crore households will require assistance. The total quantum to be required will be Rs 3,60,000 crore over three months
Clear notifications should be issued by all states, which should safety guidelines. Procurement at minimum support price (MSP) and storage needs by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and State FCIs needs to be enhanced to prevent a famine like condition from evolving. 

Support of civil society and voluntary workers be enlisted in identifying vulnerabilities and assisting with the deliverables

In all natural disasters in the past, civil society has played an important and prominent role in relief and rehabilitation. As in any natural disaster, the government’s capacity and preparedness to face the outcomes of the pandemic has to be augmented by that of civil society. The Government of India has set up a portal for the enlistment of individuals and organisations. 
This is also already happening in many states. The Government of Kerala has already announced the formation of a Community Volunteer Force with a strength of around 2.4 lakh persons to provide support services at the Village Panchayat and Municipal level. Within a couple of days, more than one lakh persons have already registered through an online registration. The Jharkhand Government has also enlisted the support of volunteers. 
All state governments should set up committees at the Village Panchayat, Block, District and State levels, start on-line portals, and organisations could indicate the nature of the resources that could muster, areas of work, support required etc. Panchayat leaders and officials and sub-district health staff should be educated and trained at the very earliest.

Ensuring the safety, security, and welfare of the front-line workers, who are at risk

At present, the Central and state governments have to equip the frontline health workers and the hospitals, which should remain the top most priority for all governments, but frontline workers also include others engaged in essential services on behalf of governments (such as sanitation workers), or private firms (delivery workers, workers in chemist shops etc.) who also are at greater risk and under hardship. States should announce specific measures for the safety, job security, and welfare of all such workers and private employers should also follow up.

Release of prisoners

Some states such as Delhi and Maharashtra have already announced the release of prisoners from overcrowded jails addressing public health concerns and releasing precious resources for other purposes. State should release under-trial persons and political persons, or those in jails for minor issues, in order to immediately decongest prisons and jails.

Revised NDMA Guidelines on the Lockdown suitable for India’s Context

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Guidelines have been revised from time to time through addendums. They should be comprehensively revised to allow people to deliver, as well as access essential services, while maintaining social distancing and other public health related measures necessary under the present circumstances. 
Guidelines and explanatory videos should be cognizant of the nature of urban Indian and rural society, levels of homelessness, overcrowding, illiteracy etc. and large scale educational campaigns should be carried out and concerns addressed through press conferences on a daily basis. Police are themselves frontline workers performing their duties under difficult circumstances but clear instructions should be issued to police in the light of these detailed guidelines not to harass distressed citizens who are either trying to provide, or access, essential goods and services.

Larger Support from the GoI is the need of the hour

The Government of India as a sovereign institution alone has the fiscal capacity to raise significant financial resources. It should do so immediately by a three to four fold increase of the current relief package. It should also play a clearer and stronger role interstate coordination and mobilization of non-fiscal resources. This was sadly lacking with respect to the stranded workers in cities and destination states.
We request you to urgently consider the above proposals and to take the necessary decisions at your level.

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Cyrus Mistry, PM Modi’s brother: What do these accidents have in common? Merc!

By Rosamma Thomas*  In September 2022, in an accident at Palghar near Mumbai, Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of the Tata Group, died in a road accident . On December 28, 2022, a road accident in Mysore left one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brothers injured. What is common in these accidents? The car that crashed into the divider on the road, in both these cases, was manufactured by “prestigious” German manufacturer Mercedes Benz. One former dealer of Mercedes Benz cars in India has been raising issues of the threat to the lives of those riding these cars for many years now. Cama Motors, among the oldest dealers of foreign cars, having started business in pre-independence India, noted over 10 years ago that Mercedes Benz was indulging in corrupt practices . The cars are currently priced between Rs 41 lakh and Rs 2.92 crore in India; few people realize that the pride of owning a Merc comes at considerable risk to life. Cama Motors carefully documented several of the flaws on a websi

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen