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Labour let down

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  • Less than a third of Indian migrant workers have so far got free food promised by the Centre. This speaks of sloppy systems of state governance. It’s all the more tragic for the pain they’ve had to endure after the covid lockdown

India seems to miss no opportunity to expose its poor state capacity. It has now emerged that less than a third—31% to be precise—of our 80 million migrant workers benefited from the government’s scheme to give them foodgrain free of cost. Announced on 16 May, the idea was to provide 5 kg rice or wheat and 1 kg chana to four-score million migrants not covered under the National Food Security Act. While the scheme was initially for two months (May and June), it was later extended until November.

These revelations emerged from the deposition of senior government officials before a parliamentary panel on labour on Monday. They said that states lifted about 80% of the 800,000 tonnes of foodgrain made available by the Centre for the scheme, but distributed only 246,000 tonnes. This indicates vast inefficiency and insensitivity on the part of state governments and local bureaucracies.

Migrant labourers were hit the hardest by the covid pandemic and the abrupt lockdown imposed on 26 March. As shutters were drawn down, millions of workers were left jobless and desperate. The sight of their walking hundreds of miles back to villages for survival, often with children and elderly dependents in tow, shall haunt the country for generations. A botched lockdown should have been followed by swift relief measures. But even these seem to have proven inadequate. When it’s a matter of subsistence, food distribution should not be identity but need based. Even if a record had to be kept of beneficiaries, then it shouldn’t have been difficult. Most Indians now have Aadhaar cards. The failure points to sloppy governance.

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