States told to document food needs of migrants amid Covid-19 lockdown
Jobless migrant workers were caught in a survival battle as factories, shops, and labour sites were shut with the imposition of the lockdown on March 25.Updated: May 10, 2020 02:33 IST
The Centre on Saturday said it is planning measures to ease difficulties that migrant workers were facing and states ought to prepare local databases urgently to be able to respond to their immediate needs of food and shelter as thousands of them left jobless because of the Covid-19 lockdown continued to leave cities.
Union food and public distribution minister Ram Vilas Paswan said he has asked food ministers of states to document and locate migrant workers in major cities, give them provisional ration cards and provide estimates of ration to federal authorities.
“The Prime Minister is worried. I am worried. But we need a system to take food to the migrants. That is why we have recommended state food ministers that at least basic details such as location, number of migrants, clusters, and food requirements must be prepared urgently,” Paswan said.
Paswan said 810 million beneficiaries, nearly two-thirds of the population, of the public distribution system, who are eligible for subsidised food, were receiving their regular ration.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, these beneficiaries are also being given double their current food entitlement free of cost for three months. The scheme was launched on March 26 to protect the poor from the impact of national lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19.
“We have told food ministers if there are needy people who may or may not have a ration card, or are outside the system, like migrant workers, we have enough stocks,” Paswan said. He said states could also organise kitchens by utilizing funds under the State Disaster Relief Fund and National Disaster Relief Fund to tide over the immediate crisis.
Some states have to start provisioning for migrant workers, Paswan said. “The Centre will provide grains as per the current requirements. But we need estimates. How do you intervene otherwise?” he asked. “The Delhi government has said it was reaching 10 lakhs [1 million], such people, for instance.”
India has an estimated 140 million migrant workers who keep the urban economy afloat. They belong mostly to poorer states such as Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Bihar and shift to more prosperous ones like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu to work as manual labour. Many haul bricks and building material at construction sites or work in shifts in factories.
Jobless migrant workers were caught in a survival battle as factories, shops, and labour sites were shut with the imposition of the lockdown on March 25. Many of them began walking home hundreds of miles away under harsh conditions, hungry, thirsty and tired, and set off an unprecedented crisis.
Federally held food stocks currently stand at around 56 million tonne, while 6 million tonne is needed for the next three months.
“How would it feel if the weakest members of a family starve despite the household’s granary being full?” asked economist Jean Drèze, a long-time advocate of the right to food. He said food should be given without documentation to everyone who needs it. Drèze has urged for universalizing access to the public distribution system.
Construction is the single largest source of employment for migrant workers in India. According to the National Sample Survey Office data, 33.3 million people moved out of farming to the construction sector between 2004-05 and 2011-12.
The plight of migrant workers could have been cushioned by a federal programme launched last year to make subsidized rations portable. The programme, known as ‘One Nation One Ration Card’, is still work in progress.
The scheme is still not fully geared for seamless inter-state transactions. Inter-state portability, whereby a migrant gets food in a state other than his own, is being tried in select clusters of 12 contiguous states.
Paswan said he had approved the on-boarding of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu on the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ platform.
According to Chinmay Tumbe, the author of ‘India Moving - A History of Migration’ and faculty at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, India’s migration is circular in the sense that people keep moving from city to city until they return home at one point before moving out again.
This means a portable food distribution system has to be capable of continually tracking migrant workers, who make up 29% of the nation’s workforce.