From free ration supply and cash dole out to door delivery of food kits, state governments are responding in myriad ways to insulate the poor and vulnerable sections of the society from the impact of the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The immediate focus is on ensuring smooth and uninterrupted supply of essential commodities to the poor and marginalised sections that are facing the brunt of the lockdown due to loss of work. States are stretching every nerve and ramping up efforts to provide assistance to vulnerable sections.
Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the deadly virus, Kerala announced home delivery of kits of food essentials to the poor in the state. In fact, Kerala is the first state to announce such an initiative.
Families below poverty line will continue to get the 30 kg of food grains, as mandated under the Public Distribution System (PDS), along with the kit. If needed, the state will extend this aid to others as well. Those entitled to 2 kg of rice at subsidised rates will now get 15 kg of rice for free.
Free rice, cash dole out in Telangana
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government has announced an immediate financial assistance of ₹1,500 per family to purchase essential items in the state. The money will be directly transferred to the bank accounts linked to the Aadhaar and ration cards of the beneficiaries.
Besides this, each member of eligible poor families will be given 12 kg rice free. All white ration card holders are eligible for this sop. The rice will be distributed through Fair Price Shops, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has announced. The entire package will cost ₹3,500 crore and benefit over 80 lakh families.
In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy has announced to the poor free ration, including rice and tur dal, and ₹1,000 one-time cash assistance to each family. This economic package will cost the government exchequer ₹1,500 crore.
On March 22, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa announced two months free ration for all the people.
As a relief measure to the poor, Pondicherry government will provide ₹2,000 to each family having ration card through direct benefit transfer system.
Free food in Rajasthan
Rajasthan government has drawn up plans to provide food grains for free till the end of May to more than 1 crore families registered under the National Food Security Act. Those who live in urban areas and are not covered under the NFSA list will be provided food packets free for two months beginning April 1.
On its part, Bihar has announced that it would provide one month free ration for all ration card holders.
The Uttar Pradesh government has said it would give ₹1,000 each to around 35 lakh daily wagers and construction workers in the state as financial aid, while free ration will be provided for April and May to 1.65 crore construction workers. This would cost ₹350 crore for the exchequer.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has declared an immediate relief of ₹3,000 to each registered construction worker in the state. The money would be transferred to their bank accounts in a bid to mitigate the hardships being faced by them. A total of ₹96 crore has been earmarked for this purpose.
Besides, ₹20 crore has been sanctioned out of the Chief Minister Relief Fund for providing free food and medicines to the needy in the state.
Himachal Pradesh government has announced ₹500-crore relief package for the poor and the needy, and ₹30 crore for construction workers who are likely to face financial troubles. Over one lakh workers registered with the Building and Construction Workers Board will be provided ₹2,000 as one-time relief.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has unveiled a string of relief measures to help the poor tide over the difficult situation. They include payment of ₹5,000 in cash to all construction workers — since the works in this sector would remain suspended during the lockdown, free food for the homeless and needy at night shelters, doubling of pensions for widows and elderly and specially-abled citizens.
The Delhi government has increased the monthly quota of free ration from 5 kgs to 7.5 kgs to benefit over 70 lakh people.
Meanwhile, Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Wednesday (March 25) said the government was closely monitoring the availability of essential commodities in the market amid the nationwide lockdown and assured that there was no shortage.
The Centre has allowed States and Union Territories to lift food grains for three months in advance from Food Corporation of India (FCI) for distribution through ration shops in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. There are about 75 crore beneficiaries under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
The Centre and state governments have taken measures to ensure that the supply of all essential items continue smoothly, Paswan said, seeking to allay apprehensions among people about availability of food and other essential provisions.
India will have enough food grain stockpiles to feed its poor for at least a year-and-a-half as the reserves are likely to further balloon after record harvests. “There will be no food shortage in the country,” D V Prasad, the chairperson of state-run Food Corporation of India (FCI), said in an interview with Bloomberg.
There will be 100 million tons of food grains in warehouses across the country by the end of April, compared with an annual requirement of 50 million to 60 million tons under various welfare programs for the poor. India is likely to produce record 292 million tons of food grains in 2019-20.
“There is absolutely no need to worry as far as the availability of wheat and rice is concerned in any part of the country,” Prasad said.