AIDWA claims Govt’s Covid package ‘too little, too late’

Staff Reporter

Imphal, Mar 29: The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) said it is utterly disappointed with the Covid relief package announced by the Union Finance Minister recently.

Alleging that it reflects great insensitivity on plight of the crores of lockdown-affected poor working people across the country, especially women, a joint statement issued by AIDWA president Malini Bhattacharya and general secretary Mariam Dhawale pointed out that the Rs 1.75 lakh crore package constitutes less than 1 percent of the entire GDP and shows that the government is completely unmindful of the burgeoning humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in the country.

Though the government has stated that “no one will go hungry” and announced 5 kg of rice or wheat, 1 kg of pulses free for those below the poverty line, it has not specified how these will be available to the homeless and migrants who are out on the streets as a result of the panic created by the sudden announcement of the government. There is also no mention of vulnerable families excluded from the PDS system.”

One of the major omissions in the package is the virtual absence of any mention of the doorstep delivery of mid-day meals to school children. The government should take a leaf out of the Kerala experience where doorstep delivery has been systematised. The government must ensure home delivery of rations as well as ensure a minimum of two cooked meals at feeding centres that could include Anganwadis, government schools, government colleges, community halls, etc., the AIDWA leaders stressed.

“The government has proposed three free LPG cylinders to those under the UjjwalaYojana, which will cover only a small fraction of the households using LPG cylinders. This benefit should have been extended to all households, irrespective of whether they are enrolled in the UjjwalaYojana or not.”

The government has announced the meagre sum of Rs 1000 for aged widows. Another ridiculous assistance announced is Rs 500 per month to all Jan Dhan account holders. This assistance of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 is an insult to the poor, who are now struggling to survive. It is also not clear how the women will access this money during the lockdown. The support extended to pension beneficiaries of Rs 1000 for three months is also inadequate. This is only an increase of Rs 500. The package has not taken into consideration the needs of pregnant women and lactating mothers. It is also not clear how they will avail of their entitlements under the NFSA in the lockdown period. Women’s organisations have repeatedly stressed that all women from vulnerable sections should be provided at least Rs 5000 per month for meeting this emergency.

The announcement of a Rs 20 increase in MGREGA wage rate, and claiming that this will amount to Rs 2000 for 100 days work, is adding insult to injury. This assumes that all households will get 100 days of work, which does not happen even during normal times. Less than 7% of the households last year got 100 days of work. Besides, currently due to the lockdown all MGNREGA worksites are closed. The government must immediately pay all pending wages of MGNREGA workers, and give a cash transfer to all the MGNREGA job card holding households to help tide through these months of slowdown.

The first instalment of Rs 2000 for the PM Kisan scheme is to be given to only 8.7 crore farmers, when the actual number of beneficiaries is over 14 crores. The government must also make a one-time payment of Rs 6000 to all tenant farmers, who are excluded from the scope of PM Kisan, and to all applicants under the Forest Rights Act.

The health insurance scheme for medical volunteers and professionals, once again belittles the burgeoning demand for upscaling the supply of protective gear and essential medical equipment. The government must ensure that medical personnel and volunteers providing essential services are provided proper protective equipment.

Instead of allocating additional resources from its treasury, the Government seems to be tapping on the savings of the workers themselves. It is using the construction workers fund for providing relief to registered workers, leaving crores of non-registered migrant workers to fend for themselves. Further the District Mineral Fund, which is to be used for the welfare of mining workers and displaced people, is also being diverted for fighting COVID 19. The government, instead of allocating its own reserves or asking the corporates to pay up their tax arrears and huge NPAs, seems to be bent on depleting the worker welfare funds for fighting COVID 19.

No measures at all for migrant workers - who have been the hardest hit - have been announced. Many of them, including women in large numbers, have started the journey back to their native villages on foot. The Central Government must ensure safe transportation to all the migrant labours who are attempting to reach their homes after the lockdown. They must also be given an amount of Rs 5000 per family.

There are reports from various parts of the country of people starving and desperately looking for food and other support. In this background, the measures that have been announced are pitifully meagre and do not show the urgency required to respond to the gravity of the situation. On the contrary, there are reports of increased police repression on and humiliation of already distressed people. AIDWA units in many states are raising help and distributing food and other essential items to the people in distress.

The AIDWA deplores the callous attitude of the government towards this crisis and calls upon all right thinking people to build pressure on the government to take a more comprehensive and committed approach to meet this humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions.

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