NEW DELHI :
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday extended the food security scheme, which will benefit most states that have witnessed reverse migration, but also spoke about the concerns raised by state governments during Unlock 1.0, particularly the lack of precaution taken by people during the period.
The decision to extend the food security scheme till November is expected to benefit states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, where the problem of reverse migration is most acute. As many as 8 million labourers have travelled from various cities to their villages in these states since the lockdown was imposed on 25 March.
The extension of the free foodgrain scheme comes against the backdrop of nearly a dozen states and Union territories, cutting across political lines, flagging the need. The state governments of Assam, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Punjab and Kerala had demanded that the scheme be extended for at least three more months to aid the poor and the migrants.
Top Opposition leaders, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, had written to Modi highlighting the need for extending the scheme.
The move is also politically significant as it comes ahead of crucial assembly elections in the next one year in Bihar and West Bengal.
Bihar is critical to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which is seeking a return to power under chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is currently in his third term. The Bihar polls would be the first assembly election in the country since the coronavirus outbreak. In West Bengal, the BJP aims to be the main challenger to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by incumbent chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
“The Union government will continue to work for the poor and the socially and financially weaker sections. The Union government has decided to extend the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana till November, which means that 80 crore people will continue to get food for the next five months," Modi said in an address to the nation on Tuesday evening.
Modi also thanked farmers and taxpayers, two crucial voter bases of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which have allowed the Union government to implement the food security plan of the Centre.
The chief ministers of states ruled by the BJP, primarily Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, had told the Union government that even after several rounds of awareness programmes, people were not following social distancing guidelines and were not wearing masks.
“The biggest difference between the nationwide lockdown and Unlock 1.0 is that people have stopped wearing masks and maintaining social distancing norms. We have carried out several rounds of awareness programmes, but it has been noticed that people were not following social distancing rules, which has raised concerns during Unlock 1.0. We have asked the Union government to ensure that social distancing and wearing of masks is followed during Unlock 2.0," said a senior cabinet minister in Bihar government.
Modi said the concept of ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ would benefit migrant workers the most. “Now one ration card is also being arranged for the whole of India that is ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’. The biggest beneficiaries of this will be the poor or those who leave their village in search of employment or other needs," he said.