New Delhi, 26 March | ActionAid Association offers all its support to the Government in the battle against Corona Virus and ensuring impact of the necessary lockdown is minimal in the lives of vulnerable
ActionAid Association welcomes the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana, a Rs 1.7 lakh crore welfare package for low-income households and people living in poverty, who have been hit hard by the economic disruption caused by the necessary containment measures put in place to fight the spread of Covid-19, as announced by Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister today.
The measures cover a variety of sectors where a large population of India’s informal workers are employed. The welfare package is in line with several of the suggestions that ActionAid Association (AAA) had submitted to the Covid-19 Economic Response Task Force on 25th March 2020, and what many civil society organisations and economists have been recommending.
The welfare package is a welcome start; and more may need to be done to curtail the economic devastation and social breakdown we may witness over the coming weeks, even as we prepare our healthcare systems to cope with the scale of the crisis. Our assessment of the impact of the very necessary lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, is that the full package would entail increasing the quantum and extent of financial support, especially for those who are currently out of existing social safety nets. We would like to highlight the following points that may require additional measures in relation to the specific announcements made today regarding the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana: –
- The increase in rations under PDS is a welcome step. However, coverage also needs to be immediately enhanced. In line with Supreme Court orders in context of drought situations, the government should ensure that the rations must be available not only to card holders, but to anyone who needs or demands ration. Further, to prevent the threat of spreading the virus, the use of biometric authentication must be halted and other preventive measures such as door-to-door delivery of rations be put in place.
- The government should also ensure the provision of cooked meals for homeless, elderly women and men living alone, children in need of adult care and protection, and other such specific groups of people in need of extra care and protection. While many State Governments are already doing so through homeless shelters and/ or state-run government canteens, the Union Government should boost these efforts by making meals available in safe conditions in places such as stadiums and unused/disused public buildings.
- In addition to the increase in cash transfers through the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana, the government also needs to ensure that farmers who are sitting on harvests are able to sell their stocks. In several states, there is news of mandis being shut down and of farmers being unable to access markets. The Government needs to take urgent measures to expand its procurement to include fruits and vegetables in such areas and ensure fair prices (at least equal to MSP) to the farmers.
- The Government should also announce an immediate loan waiver and moratorium on all other forms of payments for farmers.
- While the daily wage for MNREGA workers has been increased, the Government needs to clear the backlog of payments. Since the Finance Minister has said that MNREGA work can continue wherever possible with due precautions such as social distancing, Government should ensure availability of work and remove the cap of 100 days, and like in particular instances in the past make it at least 150 days. Workers should be included in the efforts against COVID-19 such as upgrading infrastructure of primary health centres and district hospitals, running community kitchens and providing door-to-door delivery of food to households with quarantined members or households with vulnerable people, ensuring availability of soap, hand sanitisers, and water at the household level to maintain hygiene levels, distributing masks and other protective items, and leading community awareness initiatives, collecting test samples from households so that corona suspect people do not have to visit hospitals etc. The Government must also introduce an urban employment guarantee programme.
- The pension amount announced for widows, persons with disability, and senior citizens should be increased so that they receive a minimum of Rs 5,340 per month or an amount equal to half the monthly minimum wage. Other vulnerable categories who have fewer sources of incomes such as other categories of single women (apart from widows) belonging to BPL families, including divorced women, separated women, unmarried women (above the age of 35 years), sex workers and women survivors of violence must also be included.
- The amount of cash transfer announced for women Jan Dhan account holders is inadequate to allow them to get the basics living needs for families. Given that other opportunities for wage income will be near completely eroded in the coming months, The government could ensure an amount of Rs 10,680 or the monthly minimum wage, whichever is higher.
- There are many informal workers, especially daily wage earners, home-based workers, and domestic workers, who are not registered with the labour department and are not covered in the schemes mentioned in the package. Therefore, the government should transfer an amount of Rs 10,680 or the monthly minimum wage, whichever is higher, to all BPL, APL, and Antodaya card holders.
- There are also several people who may not have bank accounts, including homeless people and daily wage labourers. The government needs to regularly reach out to them with relief packages. This should include the relief amount of Rs 10,680 in cash or in the form dry ration, medicines, soaps and sanitizers.
- While the government has directed employers to retain their employees, including contractual and casual workers and pay their salaries, even if they are unable to come to work, several establishments, especially MSMEs would be unable to do so in the absence of support. The government should urgently announce a payroll support mechanism.
- In addition, platform workers who may be engaged in various capacities including as drivers, delivery persons, beauticians, plumbers, painters and in security, are extremely vulnerable as they are not recognised as employees and are thus not entitled to monthly wages, social security, and health benefits. The government needs to issue a notice to platform owners to ensure financial assistance equal to the average monthly earnings of their service providers plus fifty percent of the average earnings for the next three months. The platform owners must also provide all protective gears to their registered service providers.
- The Finance Minister has announced that collateral free loans available to women-led SHGs would be enhanced up to Rs 20 lakhs under NRLM. However, several SHGs have been negatively impacted due to a sudden disruption in their supply chains or because they are not included in essential services. The government needs to ensure that these SHGs are immediately ‘repurposed’ for the production of essential commodities such as protective equipment.
- Apart from utilisation of existing welfare funds such as the Building and other Construction Fund and the District Mineral Fund, the government needs to create a separate workers’ relief fund to finance this welfare package in an effective and transparent manner.
- While health insurance is a much needed and long pending form of social security for our front line workers including healthcare providers and sanitation workers, it is nowhere near what is required in terms of equipping them at the time of this crisis. The government needs to provide all front line workers including ASHA workers, aanganwadis, ANMs, sanitation workers, and rag pickers with regular wages and protective gear.
AAA welcomes the Finance Minister’s statement that the economic task force will continue to monitor the situation closely and would be announcing further measures to protect the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable and marginalised. We await these and other urgent steps for strengthening community level preparedness at the block, ward and district levels.
In addition to insurance, we await other urgent steps, especially for ensuring the protection of frontline staff including ASHA workers, aanganwadis, ANMs, and sanitation workers, and for strengthening community-level preparedness at the block and district levels.
ActionAid Association offers all its support to the Governments efforts of containing the spread of the Covid-19 virus and reaching out to ensure that the impact of the necessary lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus, is minimal in the lives of vulnerable communities as identified by the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana.
About ActionAid Association
ActionAid India has been working in solidarity with vulnerable communities in India since 1972. It currently works in 24 States and two Union Territories, with more than 250 partners and allied organisations. ActionAid Association, was registered as an Indian organisation in 2006 and seeks to ensure that the poorest and marginalised have access to the fruits of development, and legal and Constitutional rights to food and livelihood, shelter, education, healthcare, dignity and a voice in decisions. ActionAid Assopciation works with organisations, institutions, government ministries and its various commissions at the State and Union levels to achieve this.
Contact for more information:
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