Comment of Prof. K.R. Shyam Sundar, Professor, XLRI-Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur

The FM’s second tranche of relief measures have sought to address issues concerning generally the urban poor and more specifically the migrant workers and the street vendors.

 

The biggest take-away and the only credible relief measure amongst the host of announcements made today is that migrant workers even without the ration card can avail 5 kg of rice or wheat and 5kg chana per family.

 

The FM has announced that this document-free free ration will benefit approximately 8 crore people.  During the announcement of measures during the COVID-19 times, when it comes to claimed beneficiaries numbers often easily run into crores! What are the sources of these data, especially when we do not have any scientific basis save the 2011 Census to even guesstimate migrant population save by extrapolations which will be based on some linear growth assumptions.  Even assuming that the government has credible database , does not this statistic reveal that 8 crore people have been rendered without a ration card and they must have been deprived of the rights of foodgrains promised under the first relief measure by the FM on March 26?  Could the government not have realised that such a huge measure of population that too vulnerable lot have been left out?

 

The rest of the measures such as affordable housing (that too on an untrustworthy PPP mode), potential statutory rights in the forthcoming Occupational Safety and Health and Working Conditions Code (OSHWC), a portable PDS system in the distant future (by March 2021), etc. do not constitute relief measures. 

 

Interestingly, the existing Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act (the Act), 1979 and the proposed OSHWC Code requires every employer (in the Act, it was contractor) to “provide and maintain suitable residential accommodation to such worker during the period of their employment” (S.59, (iii) in the Code).  Then, where is the question of “affordable rental housing complexes” (ARHC) under the PMAY Scheme by several players? What happens to the statute then? Will the ARHC be used to deny accommodation by the employers?

 

Further, the Code should be strengthened considerably to make compulsory registrations of the inter-state migrant workmen from the original LOCAL place of origin and they must be issued smart portable e-operative cards and a portable set of documents including the PDS card.  The progress in these procedural aspects are far more important than these vague promises!

 

The street vendors will be far more disappointed than the migrant workers since they are just getting “easy access to credit facility” and that only “within a month” which means a working capital of ₹10,000 and this is said to benefit 5 million street vendors.

 

Should they not have been given credible forms of income support given they did not and could not sell their petty to somewhat decent wares on the streets and the allotted spaces since March 26? Why could not the government think of instant direct benefit transfer to stranded migrants and the 5 million street vendors and for the latter free ration if they have not availed for want of ration card under the PMGKY? Why is the government not talking of DBT of a fixed amount of say ₹5,000 which will in fact go back to the Business in the form of purchases and then possibly to the government at least a part of it as tax?

 

 

These toiling and suffering millions expected credible economic relief but all that they have offered apart from the delayed offer of free ration and promises that make little or no difference and these may or may not come even in the distant future, given the track record of implementation of promises. Finally, does it take a crisis of this vast magnitude for the government to wake up and recognise the “historically missing and invisible” migrant workers and despite having a statute like Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act (the Act), some four decades ago? 

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