A survey carried out to examine the impact of two major relief measures announced by the Centre on March 26, following the imposition of a nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus, has showed that the benefits have not reached many of the targeted beneficiaries.
The “Jaccha-Baccha Survey” was conducted under the guidance of development economists Reetika Khera and Jean Dreze.
The government had on March 26 announced doubling of public distribution system entitlements to those who had ration cards, and cash transfer of Rs 500 for three months for women Jan Dhan Yojana account holders. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had unveiled a package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore to ensure direct cash transfers and food security for the economically weaker sections.
The survey was conducted via telephone at the end of April with 130 respondents from rural Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. The results showed that most of the respondents (82%) had a ration card, and almost all of the cardholders (96%) had received PDS rations in April. However, almost half (46%) were yet to receive double rations. The survey also showed that distribution of dal was yet to begin in most states.
Access to banks remained a problem, the survey showed. “Just over one-third of the respondents had gone to the bank in April,” it said. “Among those who succeeded in withdrawing cash, a few mentioned queues, repeated visits, and Aadhaar-related problems. Among those who failed to withdraw money, ‘passbook blocked’, ‘bank shut’, ‘saw crowd and returned’, and ‘account showed zero balance’ were the main responses.”
As many as 64% of the respondents did not visit the bank. Of those who did, 80% had been able to withdraw cash.
Only 23% of the respondents reported that some household member had received Rs 500 in a Jan Dhan Yojana account. The rest, the survey said, either received nothing (36%) or did not know if they had received anything (41%).
Most of the respondents (74%) said someone from their household would take up work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, if it was available. “Among those who did not want NREGA work, the main reasons were that they had a young child, were worried about infection, or feared being beaten for breaking rules,” the survey said. This is despite the fact that agricultural activities have been exempted from the lockdown.
Several respondents said they had at least one family member who was stranded somewhere in the rest of the country as a migrant labourer. The respondents said the predicament of these labourers varied from “reasonably secure to very precarious”.
“While the PDS seems reasonably functional and inclusive, one pervasive complaint is that names of some household members are missing in the family’s ration card,” the survey said. “This reduces people’s effective entitlements, since rations are distributed on a per-capita basis.”
Some farmers complained about the low prices of their produce. Others alleged that local shopkeepers had increased prices.
“The poorest households are likely to be under-represented in our sample because many of them may not have functional phones,” the survey said. “Still, some respondents clearly lived in abominable poverty.” The survey added that a majority of the phone numbers, collected less than a year ago, were unreachable. It said this is worrying because phone numbers are increasingly being linked to bank accounts and ration cards.
The People’s Union of Civil Liberties had on April 28 urged the government to universalise the PDS system, to avoid starvation and distress amid the lockdown. “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.” PUCL said that the Centre must immediately provide at least 10 days rations per person.
The nationwide lockdown, which has been twice extended, will end on May 17. There have been 49,394 cases of Covid-19 in India so far, and 1,694 people have died, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.