The Centre’s well-timed decision to extend the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) till November-end is expected to enable about 60 per cent of the country’s population to keep getting free ration amid the prolonged Covid-19 crisis. The majority of the migrant workers are back in their home states, having travelled all the way on foot or by any available mode of transport — right from Shramik trains to cement mixer trucks. With the virus spreading rapidly during the unlocking phase, many of them are reluctant to return to the states where they used to work. Looking for jobs at their native places, they need food security to survive this difficult period. Effective implementation of the PMGKAY can ensure that even the poorest of the poor don’t sleep on an empty stomach.
Data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy shows that the country’s rural unemployment rate has fallen from 17.71 per cent in the first week of June to 7.62 per cent in the month’s last week. This drop is attributed to a sharp increase in the demand for work under MGNREGA and the availability of work opportunities during the ongoing kharif sowing season. The urban employment rate has also gone down, but it remains relatively high at 10.69 per cent. That’s where the Centre and the states should intervene promptly with remedial measures.
The ‘One nation, one ration card’ scheme, intended to benefit people working in other states, has missed its June 2020 deadline for a national rollout. The government has announced to make it operational across India by March 2021. The ambitious scheme, which envisages the integration of about 80 crore consumers, more than 5 lakh ration shops and over 5.4 crore tonnes of foodgrains per year, needs meticulous planning and seamless execution to realise its vast potential. With government schemes focusing mostly on the poor, other sections of society have been left to fend for themselves. The salaried class, for instance, needs much more than an expression of gratitude from the PM for being ‘honest taxpayers’. Reining in the spiralling fuel prices could be one way of mitigating their woes.