Adequate Care Needed for Most Vulnerable People During Lockdown

Bharat Dogra

On the second day of the lockout the Union Government announced a lockout relief package which it said amounted to Rs. 1.7 lakh crore. However, it was evident that a very substantial portion of this did not involve commitment of any new funds but instead merely repackaging of provisions which already existed.

 Hence there is clear need for the Union government to commit more funds for this urgent task of providing adequate relief to vulnerable people during the lockout and its immediate aftermath. While on the one hand more funds are needed for provisions already covered by the relief package such as free grains and pensions, on the other hand there is also need for allocating funds for other urgent purposes not covered in the relief announcement already made.

 Essential and life-saving medicines for various serious diseases other than coronavirus have to be arranged as many people have not been able to buy adequate medicines for the lockdown period while others do not also have the money for this. All possible efforts should be made to ensure that no one is denied essential medicines, including providing life-saving medicines free at hospitals and primary/community health centers.

During the lockdown period emergency care for all patients (not just those affected by coronavirus) should continue to be available.

Special care should be taken to meet the protection needs of doctors, nurses and all health workers on a high priority basis. Similarly, care should be taken to meet the special protection needs of sanitation workers.

PDS rations should be given free to all needy people at least for one month while waiving all restrictions like biometric matching etc.

Cash transfers should be made in the accounts of poor households, or some other methods should be found to transfer some ready cash to them, adequate to meet their basic needs for at least one month. While some provision has already been made for this in the relief package announced by the government this needs to be increased significantly.

All pensions for weaker and vulnerable sections should reach them in time and there should be a significant increase in the pension amount for the crisis period. This again should be more than what has been announced in the relief package. In fact there is a strong case for the Union Government to increase its share of the pension payments for vulnerable groups ( given under the National Social Assistance Program) on a permanent basis as this has stagnated at very low levels for a very long time.

The relief given to construction workers should not be confined to the amounts already available in state construction labour welfare boards; additional relief funds should also be allocated as construction workers have been affected so adversely.

 In the recent disruption of work many workers could not get their entire pending dues. The labour departments should make a special effort to ensure that their pending dues are paid.

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Apr 3, 2020

Bharat Dogra

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