Activists call FM’s Rs 1.7 lakh crore package ‘inadequate for poor’

Migrant workers walk back to their homes.

Prominent academicians, researchers, activists and policy analysts have called the Rs 1.7 lakh crore package announced by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to deal with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 outbreak inadequate.

“The FM’s announcement of Rs 1.7 lakh crore, is less than half of the 3.75 lakh crores required to fulfil the minimal emergency measures suggested in the appeal endorsed by 635 people. The calculation of 3.75 lakh crores only
referred to an emergency cash relief of Rs 7,000 per household…” the citizen's response said.

They have sought for a set of emergency measures for the urban and rural poor ranging from safe transportation for migrant workers currently walking hundreds of kilometres to reach home to doorstep delivery of an immediate relief package for the poor containing rations and cash. The response to the announcement of a relief package is in addition to a letter signed by 635 activists, teachers, analysts and researchers, including activists Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander, Yogendra Yadav, Kavita Krishnan, Professor Jean Dreze and Professor Jayati Ghosh. The letter has been sent to the Centre and state governments.

The citizens’ response also say that the announcement of a package should have come before the lockdown so that lakhs of migrant workers’ panic could have been avoided. “The package is wide-ranging in scope but falls short of what is needed to support the poor and to prevent a deepening of the ongoing economic slowdown. Since several states have already announced measures, it is critical that central and state governments work together for smooth operationalisation of relief measures,” it says.

The response also adds that the announcement of 5 kg of rice/wheat per person for the next three months is welcome but fails to mention vulnerable families excluded from the PDS system. In addition to the rations, the government must provide two cooked meals a day at feeding centres located at Aanganwadis, government schools, government colleges, community halls, army areas, etc. AT least 70 feeding centres per 1 lakh people will be required, it says.

The wage increase under MGNREGA was, in fact, announced three days earlier, it says, as a regular adjustment against inflation made every year. “This cannot be called an "additional resource" as the FM mentions and even now the Central government has not adhered to the constitutional provision of minimum wages for MGNREGA,” it says, suggesting full wages for the period of lockdown. “Given that a large number of migrant workers have returned to their native villages in light of lockdowns, many more rural residents will need work under MGNREGA over the next year. In such extraordinary circumstances, the number of days of work per rural household should not be limited to 100 days per year,” it says.