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Civil Society during Lockdown

Civil society leverage, though transitory, works as a breather for the governments and the businesses.

At one month into the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19, the finance ministry in a press release has come out with an update on the government’s relief activities till 22 April 2020 for the lockdown-affected “vulnerable section” of society. Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package, 33 crore poor people are reported to have received direct financial assistance of `31,235 crore, with support amounting to `3,497 crore for construction workers, `16,146 crore for 8 crore farmers as the first instalment of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme, `10,025 crore to 20.05 crore women Jan Dhan account holders, and `1,405 crore to 2.82 crore widows, elderly and disabled persons, among others. Simultaneously, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana, free ration of foodgrains has been reportedly distributed to 39.27 crore bene­ficiaries, and 1,09,277 million tonnes of pulses were dispatched to various states and union territories, while 2.66 crore free cylinders have been delivered under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. Notwithstanding any debate on the veracity of these claims, the pressing issues at hand are two: (i) adequacy of the volume of relief relative to the number of potential beneficiaries, though in absolute terms, the relief packages may seem voluminous, and (ii) whether these are actually reaching the intended beneficiaries, given our long record of mistargeting safety nets.

The adequacy and advocacy of indirect relief packages, in particular, is difficult to be assessed because it is hard to get real-time estimates of potential beneficiaries such as informal sector workers. While it is not clear from the press release issued by the finance ministry as to whether 40 crore is the estimated number of potential beneficiaries or a work-in-progress estimate. Similarly, incidences of underestimations are also not uncommon at the state levels; for instance, the Government Order No 13 (GO-13) issued by the Telangana government that intends to provide relief to all migrant workers. This order smacks of arbitrariness, to the extent that the government in question has announced relief coverage to 3,35,669 migrant workers without, however, supporting these numbers with any official database. This arbitrariness is common to several other states. Hence, official assurances and assertion of relief fail to translate into actual implementation, with several of the actual beneficiaries being left out of the state’s support coverage. More disconcertingly, being enlisted as a beneficiary does not necessarily preclude exclusion. For instance, construction workers in certain states have been refused government relief on the grounds that the primary responsibility of their food and shelter rests on their builder–employer. Ironically, the construction sector is not only earmarked for receiving the central government’s relief support, but in states like Telangana it also comes under the state’s coverage through GO-13.

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Updated On : 28th Apr, 2020

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