As the country witnesses a 21-day lockdown as part of the efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the country are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Various state governments have stepped forward with measures to ease the life of especially the poor people during this crisis. These measures include special financial packages, food distribution, strengthening of ration distribution, etc. So far, states and union territories including Delhi, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu have announced relief packages.
In January, even before the central government and other state governments could understand the magnitude of the imminent crisis, the Left Front-ruled Kerala government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had deployed a task force of health experts to follow the developments in China, which was the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak then. The state government had beefed up preventive measures.
However, on January 30, the country's first positive case was detected in Kerala after a student who had returned from Wuhan, China, tested positive for COVID-19.
On March 19, Kerala government had announced a package of Rs 20,000 crore, becoming the first state government to announce a comprehensive package. It included a Rs 500 crore health package, Rs 2000 crore for loans and free ration and about Rs 14,000 crore to clear all arrears across various sectors with another Rs 2,000 crore to be distributed as part of the village employment assurance scheme for April and May.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said: “All social security pensioners in the state will get two months’ pension in March with an advance for April as the state government has earmarked Rs 1,320 crore [for this purpose]. Another Rs 500 crore have been provided to the Health Department to fight Covid-19. Bills and dues worth around Rs 14,000 crore are pending with the government. Those will be released in April."
The government has already started distribution of social welfare and security pensions and the food grains under the universal food guarantee plan. Through the early distribution of pensions, the government aims to ensure the money flow among the people.
Thousands of community kitchens and shelter homes have started operating across the state. The migrant workers are being provided food; people who lived on the streets have been shifted to shelter homes. And importantly, those who are under quarantine are being provided with cooked food. Irrespective of the status regarding the poverty line, people across the state are being provided with food grains.
The Delhi government, under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party, also announced certain measures to ease the plight of the people. The state administration made arrangements for cooked meals and ration for the needy.
In order to increase the number of shelters, certain schools have been converted into shelters for workers and migrant labourers. According to the chief minister, on April 1, around 6 lakh people have been provided with meals and the number would increase in the coming days. But, these measures have not translated into the end of the misery of the migrant workforce.
On April 2, CM Kejriwal had announced that his government will also give Rs 5,000 each to the transport service providers such as “auto, e-rickshaw, and Gramin Seva”.
On March 24, state Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami had announced a Covid-19 relief package worth Rs. 3,280 crore including a financial support of Rs 1,000 to all ration card holders and also free rice, cooking oil, sugar and other essential commodities.
The package aims at providing relief to the poor, senior citizens, agricultural labourers, autorickshaw drivers, construction workers and daily wagers who are affected by the lockdown.
While announcing the package, Palaniswami said, “Registered hawkers, autorickshaw drivers and construction workers will also get a special assistance of Rs 1,000. Migrant labourers, construction workers and autorickshaw drivers will get 15 kg rice, 1 kg dal and cooking oil for free.”
Barring Kerala, Delhi and Tamil Nadu, state governments are yet to announce any kind of comprehensive financial packages to cope with the Covid-19 lockdown. However, a few states including Punjab, Jharkhand, and Gujarat have announced distribution of food grains. Maharashtra, on the other hand, which has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 positives cases, has reportedly adopted the ‘wait and watch’ strategy.
The Congress-led government of Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab had declared a curfew across the state to enforce the lockdown effectively. On March 26, chief minister announced immediate distribution of 10 lakh packets of dry ration to daily wagers and unorganised labourers to help them during the curfew.
According to officials, the packets containing 10 kg flour, 2 kg pulses, and 2 kg of sugar are being distributed in slums and other areas where daily wagers and labourers live in large numbers. The police force across the state has also been asked to ensure that supply of food and other essential commodities continues uninterrupted. If needed, the police officials too must step in to distribute ration.
Since a large part of the state’s population is dependent on farming activities, the state government has made arrangements to ensure harvesting, procurement and storage of wheat and other vegetable crops are not impeded.
On the second day of the lockdown, March 26, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said that his government had decided to provide two months’ ration in advance to the beneficiaries of the public distribution system. As per the chief minister, around 90% of the families in the state would benefit from this decision.
Reports also say that the JMM-Congress coalition government in the state has directed all district collectors to ensure that poor and homeless persons within their jurisdictions are taken to the government-run shelters where they can be provided with regular meals.
On March 25, Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani had announced that the BJP government in the state will distribute free ration for 60 lakh families who hold ration cards. The ration packets include 3.5 kg wheat, 1.5 kg rice per person, and 1 kg of pulses, sugar and salt per family.