A bullet train to hunger
NEWS The pandemic has highlighted the importance of expanding social security nets.
IMPACT OF PANDEMIC THROUGH VARIOUS SURVEYS
The State of Working India report 2021 of Azim Premji University:
- Nearly half of formal salaried workers moved into informal work between late 2019 and late 2020 and the poorest 20% of the households lost their entire incomes in April and May 2020.
- Considering the modest national minimum wage threshold of ₹375 per day (the Anoop Satpathy Committee), 23 crore individuals have been pushed below these minimal earnings.
- Poverty rates in rural areas have increased by 15 percentage points (pp) and by 20 pp in urban areas.
- The survey was conducted on nearly 4,000 households in 11 States in October 2020, both in rural and urban areas.
- The survey focussed on understanding the hunger and livelihood situation among marginalised communities such as daily wage workers, single women households, people with disability, etc.
The differential impact on rural and urban populations was observed –
- Incomes reduced by half/quarter for more than half the urban respondents while it was a little over one-third for rural respondents.
- In October, in rural areas, 26% had no income while 30% had no income in urban areas.
- For only one in five rural respondents, the nutritional quality of food remained “more or less the same” in October compared to pre-pandemic levels. This was doubly worse for urban respondents.
- While 54% in urban areas had to borrow money for food, it was 16% lower for rural respondents.
- Nearly two-thirds of the urban respondents had to skip a meal while it was lower (41%) for rural respondents.
- Urban respondents experienced at least 12 pp more reduction in consumption of grains and pulses compared to rural.
- In summary, across 13 key parameters, urban respondents were 15 pp worse off compared to their rural counterparts.
The conditions are worse when data are spliced by caste, religion and other special forms of vulnerability-
- For instance, 60% of Muslims, 51% of Dalits, 58% of older persons without caregivers and 56% of single women-headed households went to bed without a meal at least once.
- surveys indicates the disproportionate impact faced by some of these more vulnerable communities.
TWO IMPORTANT LAWS
NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY ACT
- Under the NFSA, 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population are entitled to 5 kg of foodgrains each month at subsidised prices.
- The additional measures announced by the Central government under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana after the national lockdown were restricted to only those already covered by the NFSA.
- An additional entitlement of 5 kg of foodgrains per individual and 1 kg of pulses per household for free was given to those who hold Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cards under the NFSA.
- Supplementary rations were available under various State schemes.
- There has been a 47% increase in person-days of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20 and a record 72 lakh households completed 100 days of work in one year.
- The wider coverage of the public distribution system (PDS) and a promise for employment in rural areas have perhaps cushioned the blow to some extent compared to urban areas.
- Though the NFSA and MGNREGA have demonstrated the importance of expanding the social security nets, the PDS entitlements are basic survival kits and fall far short of minimal nutritional requirements for a healthy society.
- As per conservative estimates, there are at least 33 crore poor households in India.
- Hence, despite with over 100 million tonnes of foodgrain stocks in the Food Corporation of India warehouses (as on May 1), not universalising rations at this stage is akin to taking a bullet train to hunger.
- The Central government must immediately expand the coverage and quantity under the NFSA for at least one year, increase MGNREGA entitlements to 200 days per household,
- Initiating consultations for an urban employment programme
- Offering a wage compensation of ₹7,000 per poor household for the next few months.
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