Bangalore: Nearly 90 per cent of those entitled for free ration in Bihar did not receive any grain during two of the three weeks of the COVID19-induced lockdown, a three-state survey has found. Altogether in the three states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, more than 60 per cent of respondents did not receive the free ration they were entitled to.
Over 50 per cent respondents across the three states said they would not be able to manage household expenses for a week if the lockdown were to be extended, the survey found. The lockdown, which was to end on April 14, has since been extended by two weeks until May 3.
This is worrying because Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are the second and third highest sources of inter-state migrant workers, estimated by the Economic Survey of India 2017, to be close to 9 million annually between 2011 and 2016. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown — which came into effect within hours on March 25 — to curtail the spread of the highly-infectious coronavirus; as of April 18, India had 14,777 people testing positive for the zoonotic disease.
The sudden clampdown has left millions of these inter-state migrants stranded and out in the cold. Overnight, they have found themselves jobless, thrown out of rented tenements with little money and scarce food, as Mobile Vaani and 101Reporters reported earlier. With no transportation, many simply decided to walk or cycle hundreds of kilometres back home.
Caught unawares, the Centre and states have since scrambled to provide relief, including setting up relief camps for inter-state workers, distributing food or permitting increased allocation of grain through the public distribution system and so on.
Nearly 90% Poor Got No Free Ration
Voice-based media platform, Mobile Vaani, interviewed 1,737 respondents (840 in Bihar, 398 in Jharkhand and 499 in Madhya Pradesh) on April 11 and April 12 for a rapid assessment to understand the state of relief provisions during the lockdown. The survey found that inter-state migrant workers, farmers and daily wage or contract labourers and their families have been crippled by the lockdown. Respondents said they have neither received their ration entitlements, nor pensions or any other state benefits even as their livelihoods have come to a standstill.
In Bihar, 88.8 per cent of the poor people, who were to receive two times the quantity of their entitlement of free food grain under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, for the next three months to cope with the lockdown, did not receive the grain. In Jharkhand, 63 per cent did not receive their free rations whereas in Madhya Pradesh, where the Bharatiya Janata Party orchestrated a change in government regime days before the lockdown, 69.3 per cent respondents said they did not receive free ration they were entitled to.
Several states have followed in Kerala’s footsteps of roping in anganwadi workers to go door-to-door to distribute grain instead of the prepared mid-day meal to beneficiaries. This has not been very successful in the three surveyed states though. In Bihar, 66.4 per cent beneficiaries of the mid-day meal scheme did not receive anything from anganwadi centres compared to 39.7 per cent in Jharkhand, the survey found. In Madhya Pradesh, 49 per cent beneficiaries didn’t receive the benefit of mid-day meals, while there was no information about 20.6 per cent beneficiaries.
No Pension or Other Cash Transfers
The Centre had announced that three months of pension funds would be transferred to beneficiaries such as the aged, widows and Divyang (a euphemism for the disabled). The Bihar government had made a similar announcement, saying pension for three months would be paid in advance. However, nearly 60 per cent respondents across all the three states said that they had not received any kind of pension amount, according to the survey.
The survey also found that benefits under the national rural employment guarantee scheme as well as cash transfers to women did not materialise during the lockdown period. About 77 per cent respondents in Bihar, 70 per cent in Madhya Pradesh and 67.3 per cent in Jharkhand said they did not receive their pending wages under MGNREGA in the last two weeks of the lockdown.
Women account holders under the PM Jan Dhan Yojana were to receive the first installment of Rs 500 of their Rs1,500-financial support for three months, in April. On this count, 40 per cent respondents in Bihar reported having received financial support. In Madhya Pradesh, where chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is the sole cabinet member in the government, only 34 per cent respondents received the first installment. Just 19 per cent in Jharkhand reported having received any financial monetary support.
(101Reporters is a platform for independent, grassroots reporters)