. The Covid-19 lockdown left 45-60 million migrant labourers in the lurch across cities. Faced with lives and livelihood challenges, a large number of them began to leave in hordes to their native places, many on foot; it was a human tragedy. While concerned state governments and several NGOs sought to help them, the Centre took a lot of time to come out with effective measures.
Lately, it has announced an economic package as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. Besides offering a stimulus package to support the economy, the government utilised Covid-19 as an opportunity to attempt at structural reforms covering agriculture, core sectors, MSME and so on; and introduced short-term relief measures for migrants, including free foodgrains for three months, employment under MGNREGA, one-time payment under Jan-Dhan and easy loans under Mudra Yojana to migrants at their native places. Medium-term measures include ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ and housing facilities. While these are desirable, the scale falls far short of the requirement this crisis has warranted. What’s more, the operational design of these policy announcements is yet to be articulated—as elsewhere in policymaking, the devil lies in implementation.
Scheme would be implemented only in 116 districts of six states, it is discriminatory in that states such as Chhattisgarh and West Bengal are outside its ambit. Further, Odisha and Jharkhand even with large migrant workers got less allocation in terms of the number of districts. Some analysts have highlighted that this scheme will cover only two-thirds of migrant workers who have returned, and one-third fall outside its coverage. This has given a rise to the suspicion that it is politically-driven.
Second it is not yet clear how different stakeholders—ministries/departments, district administrations, banking systems—will coordinate on things such as timely payments to the workers. To that extent, the scheme will face implementation challenges. What could be a way forward is to bring all the stakeholders on a single IT-based platform, especially when the government is facilitating the role of an aggregator.
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