In mid-May, when Janardhan Singh’s meager savings had dried up, an announcement by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman filled him with hope. The Central government, under its Atmanirbhar Bharat economic package, would provide 8 lakh metric tonnes of free foodgrains to 8 crore migrant workers whose lives had been upended since the Covid-19 lockdown was suddenly enforced in March. The scheme was announced for just two months – May and June – but it offered at least 5 kg of grain per person and 1 kg of pulses per family every month for migrant labourers who did not have ration cards and were not covered by the Public Distribution System.
Singh did not have a ration card ever since his family moved from Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai 12 years ago. He had lost his job as an imitation jewellery maker with the lockdown and had to rely on charity to feed his wife and four young children. Around him, hundreds of his neighbors in Malvani’s Ambujwadi slum were in the same throes of economic despair. There are many migrants like Singh that are unable to get enough food to make ends meet. This month, data from the central government revealed that only 13% of the 8 lakh metric tonnes of food grains have reached migrant workers so far, even though states have collected 80% of the grains from the warehouses. Only 2.13 crore workers have benefited out of the 8 crores that the Atmanirbhar package aimed to reach.
States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar collected almost all of the food grains allocated to them under the scheme, but eventually distributed just 2% of the grains to beneficiaries on the ground. Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, and six other states distributed less than 1% of the grains allocated to them. Other states, like Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, did not even collect 5% of the grains allocated to them. Since the scheme officially ended in June, the Centre has now given states an extension up to August 31 to complete the distribution of the grains allocated to them. But the scheme as a whole has not been extended – no additional foodgrains have been allocated each month for distressed migrant workers.