Homeless persons and stranded migrant workers queue up to receive food in designated spots maintaining social distancing at Ramakrishna Ashram, in New Delhi on March 27, 2020.(Vipin Kumar / HT File Photo)
Homeless persons and stranded migrant workers queue up to receive food in designated spots maintaining social distancing at Ramakrishna Ashram, in New Delhi on March 27, 2020.(Vipin Kumar / HT File Photo)

Only quarter percent of 80 million migrants got govt food aid

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had in May announced providing 800,000 tonne of emergency ration to the estimated 80 million migrants under the Union government’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat programme for distribution during May and June.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Zia Haq and Saubhadra Chatterji
UPDATED ON AUG 18, 2020 10:02 AM IST

States were able to hand out free food under a federal programme to a mere quarter percent of an estimated 80 million undocumented migrant workers who fled distressing conditions in cities during the recent lockdown, data cited before a parliamentary panel show.

The Union government’s target of reaching free food to an estimated 80 million migrant workers has been impacted by significant last-mile bottlenecks in various states which are overwhelmed by migration from cities due to the coronavirus pandemic, official data show.

The Biju Janata Dal’s Bahtruhari Mahtab, who is chairman of the labour standing committee, at a review Monday sought information about the progress of free food-grains programme for migrants.

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This programme aimed to reach food to a large section of the country’s migrant population who otherwise don’t opt for regular cheap rations because they are scattered across the country.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had in May announced providing 800,000 tonne of emergency ration to the estimated 80 million migrants under the Union government’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat programme for distribution during May and June. Each migrant is entitled to receive up to 5 kg foodgrains a month free.

The Mahtab-led panel was informed that out of the 800,000 tonne foodgrain to be allotted to 80 million migrant undocumented migrant workers, slightly over 600,000 tonne food grains had been withdrawn by states. Till August 5, just over 200,000 tonne had been distributed to 20.3 million beneficiaries. The food secretary said states were slow distributing the food aid.

Food secretary Sudhangshu Pandey informed the parliamentary panel that guidelines for distribution had been strengthened and said states were slow to reach food to migrants.

Data accessed by HT show state authorities, overwhelmed by largescale migration, were able to hand out a mere 10.9% of cereals they had drawn from federally-held stocks in back in May. In June, state governments were able to distribute just 7.5% of the total stocks they had for the purpose.

Food disbursal to migrants not covered under the National Food Security Act 2013 should have been quicker because the Union government and states had agreed to waive off time-consuming processes to qualify for food assistance.

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These requirements include the mandatory linking of the 12-digit biometric identification, Aadhaar, to a national food-disbursal database. Migrant workers are also provisionally exempt from meeting any poverty criterion.

The number of migrants who have been covered by emergency food handouts are far lower than the total target, i.e. 80 million. In May, only 8.7 million beneficiaries were covered, while till June 20, about 6 million received ration. Cumulatively, over the two months so far, 14.7 million migrants received food handouts. That’s only nearly 18% of the total number targeted.

Also read| Covid-19 could kill more through hunger, 122 million more may be pushed to starvation: Oxfam

Food distribution happens through a network of fair-price shops that act as final points of delivery. “The issue really is reaching any benefit to an undocumented beneficiary will be a challenge in itself. States should not rely on just the public distribution route, which would have been overwhelmed, nor should federal authorities insist on it,” said economist Abhijit Sen, who oversaw policymaking in the erstwhile Planning Commission. Authorities should distribute food at any convenient point for migrants, whether it is a “bus-stop or quarantine centres”, he said.

The lockdown has pushed migrant workers and day-wagers into a survival battle, as they fled urban economic hubs in large numbers back to home states. Bihar and Jharkhand account for the largest number of migrants.

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