New Delhi: The decision of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to provide food to migrant workers returning home during the nationwide lockdown has come under scrutiny as senior officials in the union government have told the parliamentary committee on labour that only 31% people identified in the programme benefitted from it.
During a meeting of the standing committee on Labour on Monday which was attended by senior officials of Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (Department of Food and Public Distribution) and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the parliamentarians discussed that while the intent of the union government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to help the migrant workers returning home, but the target was not achieved in the beginning phase
“The situation is not very encouraging about the scheme to distribute free food to migrant or stranded labourers. The intent of the union government is good because the idea was to provide food to the needy and backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is behind the scheme but only 31% of the beneficiaries were able to get the food,” said those in the know of development.
Senior officials of the Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution ministry told the parliamentarians that while 8 lakh metric tonnes of food grains were allocated under the scheme, out of which over 6.38 lakh metric tonnes of food grains were lifted by various state governments however only 2.46 lakh metric tonnes of food grains were distributed among the beneficiaries of the scheme.
“It is shocking that while 80% of the food allocated for the scheme was lifted by state governments, the same was not distributed to the people affected by nationwide lockdown and those who lost their jobs and walked back to their villages,” said those in the know of development.
The union government had announced on 16 May that under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, there would be distribution of free food grains and pulses to 8 crore migrant labourers who are not covered under National Food Security Act or State Scheme (public distribution scheme) PDS Cards at 5 kg per person per month free of cost for two months which is May and June. The decision was later extended till November this year because of the intervention of PM Modi.
“So out of the 8 crore beneficiaries that were identified by the union government, only 2.51 crore benefitted from the scheme. Out of the total beneficiaries 81 crore under the National Food Security Act, the union government had decided that 10% people would be given free food. These people were identified because they were not registered under the National Food Security Act,” added those in the know of development.
Taking note of the situation and states not being able to distribute food grains to migrant workers, the union minister Ram Vilas Paswan on 29 May had pointed out state governments for the delay and had also named Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Assam, Chandigarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and West Bengal as the worst affected states.
Modi led union government had announced a series of steps to mitigate the problems faced by migrant workers particularly during the nearly three month long national lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus pandemic. Amongst all the scheme, the one on free food grains is politically the most significant one as several opposition parties including Congress had flagged the need to extend the scheme.
Apart from food ministry officials, the parliamentary committee on Monday were also briefed by officials from Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs on the issue of providing affordable rental housing complexes (ARHCs) to urban migrants and poor as a sub-scheme of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)(Urban), which the union cabinet had cleared last month.
“The larger topic for the labour committe meetings right now is assessing the social security and welfare measures for inter state migrant, unorganised and informal sector workers. We are hopeful that one or two more departments could brief us on some specific schemes. Another meeting of the committee could be scheduled on 25 August,” said another person aware of developments.
Over the last one month, Monday was the third meeting of the labour panel to scrutinise different aspects of the impact of lockdown on migrant labour force which has included briefing by officials from labour ministry on changes made by states in labour laws during lockdown and in another meeting by rural development and skill development on measures taken.