India to provide free food to millions of migrant workers walking home

By Sarwar Kashani |

New Delhi, May 14 (efe-epa).- India on Thursday said it would provide free food to millions of migrant workers who are on their way home after losing their livelihoods due to the coronavirus induced weeks-long lockdown.

Besides, the government will also offer a 50 billion Indian rupees ($662 million) special credit line for nearly five million street vendors who have been hit by the lockdown, which has already completed more than 50 days after being extended twice.

The pro-poor measures announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman are part of the government’s $266-billion fiscal package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday to help mitigate the effects of the crippling nationwide restrictions.

The finance minister was detailing the second tranche of the government’s economic package with a focus on migrant workers, street vendors, and small farmers.

Sitharaman said the program to provide free food grains for migrants for the next two months is part of three measures the government had proposed to support migrant workers.

“Eighty million migrants will benefit from this and the government will spend 35 billion Indian rupees on this,” the finance minister said.

The respective state government would be the implementing agencies for the relief measure announced for migrant workers who have been struggling to return to hometowns in recent weeks as incomes have dwindled and jobs lost.

“For migrants who are walking, we are making every state government provide freshly cooked food for them. Giving dry ration may not help those who are walking. State governments must help them.”

Thousands of the workers even started walking thousands of kilometers to reach home and have been facing hunger, accidents, and police restrictions on their way as the inter-state movement of people and vehicles is restricted.

“The prime minister had requested people to please stay where they are, but we understand the movement of migrant workers nevertheless. The whole country is concerned about the plight of migrants. Even today, we are seeing migrant families and children walking on the roads,” she said.

She said the government was “very concerned” and was working together with state administration to provide train facilities to help them reach home.

The minister said there was a lot of “legitimate concern about the plight of migrant workers going back to their states without livelihoods”.

She added that the state governments have been asked to enroll them under the government’s flagship rural job guarantee scheme.

Sitharaman said the government would launch another scheme to provide affordable rental housing for migrant workers and urban poor for their ease of living in the cities they move for their livelihood.

The lockdown, suspension of transport, and the closure of most businesses have triggered an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis devastating India’s $2.9-trillion economy – the third-largest in Asia.

The minister said the government would also help street vendors reestablish their business with the special credit line scheme, to be launched within a month.

The scheme for nearly five million street vendors would entail providing working capital financial assistance of 10,000 Indian rupees each to the needy vendors.

“This is not a fixed amount, and will be decided after consultation with banks,” she noted.

“Digital payments will also be incentivized through monetary rewards and good repayment behavior will be rewarded with enhanced working capital credit.”

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