The widescale spread of coronavirus across 187 countries has led to the lockdown of several cities, states and countries. According to worldometers.org, as on 26 March 2020, there are cases 471,742 confirmed cases, deaths 21,297 deaths and 114,696 recoveries worldwide.
It is somewhat similar to natural and human disasters affecting all living beings, especially for the weaker sections of our society. They are left to feed on their meagre stocks or go hungry, which can lead to several problems like hunger, health, nutrition and inequality. During the lockdown period, the governance systems need to uphold the Sustainable Development Goals as defined by UN, especially no. 1, 2, 3, 10 which means that the government has to focus on ensuring to end poverty owing to lack of daily wages, end hunger and ensure food security and nutrition owing to less or no access to food, ensure healthy lives of all age groups, and also ensure the reduction of inequality within the country.
Across the world, historically, several societies have successfully shown good examples of protecting weaker sections by the rulers or the governance system. Organising food camps, organising large scale kitchens by charitable organisations, providing food stamps by the government, donors and multilateral agencies. Also religion led temples, church and mosques providing free food to all needy people. Distributing food grains from government warehouses is quite common in recent decades. This practice is centuries old across the globe.
In recent months, coronavirus has led to lockdowns across the globe, but there is limited information available on how countries are ensuring that the most vulnerable are safe. During the lockdown, weaker sections of society, especially those who depend on daily wages and workers in the unorganised sector (street food vendors, hawkers in public spaces) are the worst affected. They are forced to sit in house, resulted in no job and no wages.
Back in India, the largest populated state of Uttar Pradesh has been taking on this challenge under the leadership of monk turned chief minister and five-time MP Yogi Adityanath. Being a monk (head priest of the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur of Uttar Pradesh), his sect on a regular basis provides free food to all devotees and cattle. This has been practised in his temple premises for several decades. His commitment to helping weaker sections (waiving off agricultural loans, direct benefit transfer to user accounts and other welfare schemes) has focused on ensuring easy access to food and cash during the lockdown period resulted from Coronavirus.
The inevitable impact of coronavirus on the weaker sections of the society has led the Government of Uttar Pradesh (confirmed coronavirus cases 34) to constitute a committee under the chairmanship of Suresh Khanna (Minister for Finance and Parliamentary Affairs, also eight times winner from the ruling party). The Committee submitted the report in a week to ensure food and cash transfer during Coronavirus related lockdown period in Uttar Pradesh. On March 18, 2020, the Chief Minister took the decision to implement the recommendations of this committee. The Committee explored to tap the underutilised labour cess fund in steering this process.
Key features of the committee recommendations
• All 1,65,31,000 workers (see Table 1), will get food grains (20 kg wheat and 10 kg rice per family per month) free for two months. To be distributed through public distribution system shops spread over all villages. This will be monitored on weekly basis by local nodal officers and state officers.
• Rs 1000 per month maintenance allowance to 20,37,000 labourers (see Table 1).
• The money will be directly transferred to beneficiaries’ bank accounts.
• Immediate payment to 88, 40,000 workers under the Mahatma Gandhi rural employment guarantee scheme, supported by the Government of India.
• All pensioners (83,83,000 as in Table 2) will get pension amount for two months.
Table 1: Labour cess fund utilisation for paying Rs.1,000 per month and food grains (wheat, 20 kgs and rice, 10 kgs) from public distribution shops from April 2020.
|Existing Scheme||Number of Beneficiaries|
|Antyodaya – Rural||37,51,000|
|MNREGA – job cardholders||88,40,000|
|Registered workers in the Labour department||20,37,000|
|Unorganised workers (estimated)||15,60,000|
Table 2. Pensioners will get two months amount from the first week of April 2020.
|Existing Scheme||No. of beneficiaries|
|1.Pension for old age people||46,97,000|
|2.Pension for Physically challenged||10,76,000|
|3.Pension for destitute/widow women||26,10,000|
The UP government had also announced that the government will engage vehicles to distribute food and rations to households in the state. So far, over 12,000 vehicles have been employed to make vegetables, milk, food grains, and medicines to doorsteps in rural and urban areas.
माननीय मुख्यमंत्री श्री @myogiadityanath जी ने कहा कि प्रशासन पूरे मनोयोग से कार्य कर रहा है। 12 हजार से अधिक वाहन सब्जी, दूध, दवा व खाद्यान्न घर-घर पहुंचाने के लिए लगाए गए हैं।— CM Office, GoUP (@CMOfficeUP) March 25, 2020
Several other states have also shown their willingness to provide similar benefits. The Kerala government had announced a 20,000 crore package. Punjab CM Amarinder Singh has declared an immediate relief of Rs 3,000 to each registered construction worker in the state. Haryana CM ML Khattar has also announced that the state will provide special financial assistance to special financial assistance for people in BPL category and low-income groups like daily wagers, labourers, street vendors and construction workers. Delhi has doubled the pension amount for widows, the elderly and disabled persons. The government has also arranged for food distribution for the homeless and poor in the national capital.
On Sunday, 22 March 2020, entire India following the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had observed a complete lockdown at the national level, that too on a voluntary basis by 1.3 billion people. Now the entire nation is under complete lockdown for three weeks. In these hard times, Uttar Pradesh model would be a healthy booster to the society.