Over 300 economists, academics, social scientists and past civil servants have urged the prime minister and chief ministers to take urgent steps to ameliorate the impact on the COVID-19 lockdowns on the vulnerable sections by increasing their monthly sustenance support to at least Rs 6,000 per family.
Those who made the collective appeal to the prime minister and the chief ministers under the aegis of the Delhi-based Indian Society of Labour Economics include Abhijit Sen, Jean Dreze, Prabhat Patnaik, Deepak Nayyar, Ajit Ghose, Jayati Ghose, SK Thorat, Rakesh Mohan, Ashok Gulati, Bina Agarwal, NC Saxena, Sujata Rao and Meghnad Desai, among others.
These economists, social scientists, leaders of labour organisations and former civil servants have appealed for "increasing the minimum central and state contribution to at least Rs 6,000 per month to each woman member of the family in the next three months and the Centre bearing the major portion".
They also said all the states should ensure that at least 10 kg free rations per person per month, along with other necessary items, is available for all eligible households, which means three-four-fold increase of the current short-term relief package for impacted informal workers.
Welcoming the Centre's Rs 1.7 trillion package and various measures taken by the states, the signatories to this letter, a copy of the same with the PTI, they have proposed urgent additional measures that are required to address the critical gaps that exist in the short-term relief measures announced so far by increasing the package by three-four times.
The letter says "cash transfer of Rs 6,000 per month to each household that doesn't have a person in formal employment or is not a tax-payer. The estimated burden of about Rs 3,60,000 crore for three months to be borne principally by the Centre but shared between the Centre and states".
On the food and subsistence requirements, they point out that 10 kg cereals and other essential items per person per month free of cost through the PDS and food for the homeless and most distressed, to meet the basic food requirement of the poor in the informal economy who have lost jobs and incomes.
They also called for ensuring the contract employees are retained by public sector units and also pay them full wages. There also has to be a scheme to compensate the unorganised and MSME sector workers by paying them wages during the lockdown.
They have called for providing ex-gratia payments and to ensure that no needy person/household remains outside the social protection net being created to cope with the current calamitous conditions.
On those fleeing the cities and got stranded midway- there are 40-50 million seasonal/circular migrants in construction, manufacturing, transport/travel industries and are currently without employment and want to head back to their villages, with their accompanying family members and warned that the numbers will increase as the lockdown extends.
They also called for measures to ensure safe harvesting and post-harvesting activities in villages by procurement at MSP and enhanced storage by the FCI and state agencies to prevent a famine-like condition from evolving.
Finally, they also appealed for ensuring the safety, security and welfare of the front-line workers, including those engaged in essential services on behalf of governments.