The People’s Union for Civil Liberties on Tuesday urged the Narendra Modi government to universalise the Public Distribution System to avoid starvation and distress amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown in the country.

“In every state there exist thousands of people who are without ration cards yet,” the civil rights body said in a statement. “There is also the issue of migrant labourers who do not have ration cards in the states where they have come to seek work. Hence we urge the government to provide universal coverage to any person or family which seeks ration, irrespective of their status.”

The organisation urged the Centre to provide at least 10 days of ration to per person immediately and drop its “indifferent approach” to the migrant crisis. “One of the most traumatised and victimised groups affected by the arbitrary and unplanned announcement of the nationwide lockdown by the prime minister on 24th March, were the millions of migrant labourers who found themselves stranded all across the country,” it added.

The human rights body said the economic, social and hunger crisis experienced by millions of citizens cannot be ignored. “Additionally, all the migrant workers should be immediately registered by the government and a helpline set up to respond to their issues, both in terms of their food survival rations as also other needs,” the statement added.

The PUCL warned that the field situation in India is “explosive”. “Millions of poor, marginalised and unemployed Indian are confronting the reality of acute hunger and starvation both in rural and urban India because of loss of livelihoods; serious economic distress confronts India’s farmers preparing for the next agricultural season,” it said.

74% households surveyed by IIM-A lost regular income

Meanwhile, a survey by volunteers at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, revealed that 74% of low-income households they spoke to lost their regular income and over 40% were facing urgent food- and medicine-related problems due to the extended lockdown.

The survey was conducted between April 10 and April 22 to assess the needs and circumstances of 110 low-income households in a community in Ahmedabad during the nationwide lockdown in place since March 25. However, these households were selectively accessed because of a prior relationship between the institution through its community outreach programs.

“Around 74% households reported not earning regular incomes anymore [most have
lost or will lose their entire income],” the survey report said. “Among the others, many expressed anxiety about the future stability of their incomes. Due to the sudden fall in incomes, most households were unable to procure vegetables, milk, washing powder, sanitary pads among other essentials [other than food].”

Meanwhile, 60% of the respondents also said that their current food supply may last less than a week, which is a sharp rise from the 44% reported by them from the first two weeks of the lockdown. “The situation is so dire that even households with just 7-10 days of food left responded saying that they were not facing much problems,” the report said. “For example, a person with a week of ration said he’s not facing much problems as others have it much worse.”

Many of these households also said that they would not be able to pay next month’s rent, phone bills, electricity bills or next instalment of school fees. “I have no job and have withdrawn all my money from the bank to feed my family of six people,” one of the respondents was quoted as saying.

The survey revealed that people with ration cards were unable to get benefits under government schemes as shops had low supply of grains, or were overcrowded. “Many were told to come at a later date [after a few days or week and as late as May 4th],” the report said. “Lots of rush and sometimes supply of ration not available at the locations,” the report cited another respondent. “They send us back again and again.”

On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that India was going into lockdown for three weeks in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The initial result was chaos and a huge migrant exodus. On the last day of the first phase of the lockdown, Modi announced that the lockdown was going to be extended till May 3. This led to rumours about trains being arranged for migrants to go home, after which hundreds gathered at a station in Mumbai. The daily wage jobs on which migrant workers depended have dried up, leaving them with no income to buy food. Many of them are living in cramped shanties, making social distancing an impossibility.

Also read:

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  2. 100 million Indians fall through gaps in food safety net, economists urge rethink on Covid-19 relief