The magnitude of the figure that was declared by the Government as the Covid economic relief was what excited the citizens of this country. A whopping INR 20 lakh crores it is; figure which many of us won’t be able to even count.
Perhaps, two previous proclamations might have excited the public like this one has. Once on the news that Modiji has announced getting back the black money into India and distributing INR 15 lakhs to each citizen’s Bank account; and secondly on the news that Rahulji has announced he would make a machine that would turn potatoes into gold.
Pun apart, economic relief package to the tune of 10% of the nation’s GDP was never witnessed in the history of this country and that was what got the eyebrows raised.
There was an honest expectation among many, including me that a package aimed for the poor would strive to offer immediate relief given that they have borne the brunt of the lockdown-related distress for over so many days now.
Unfortunately, at a time when the measures should have been focused on providing immediate relief to the poorer segments of society, it quite obviously seems skewed more towards the long-term horizon.
Let us analyse a few proposals on this yardstick:
The affordable rental housing scheme under Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana for migrant workers and urban poor would take years of infrastructure planning to be implemented. This scheme involves the private industry as well through private-public-partnership on government land and hence details about the PPP modalities have to be first finalised.
The extension of the credit-linked subsidy scheme for middle class in the INR 6-18 lakh annual income bracket would take time to be implemented and unlikely to provide any relief in the immediate crisis being faced by them.
Sceptics may argue that the announcement of free food grain supply (5 kg of grains and 1 kg chana per person) for two months to 8 crore migrant workers without a ration card and outside the ambit of National Food Security Act will provide immediate relief to migrant workers. But I feel that this announcement is devoid of having put any thought on the complicated logistical issues. Every public distribution shop has a fixed number of registrants based on which the stock of food grains is supplied to the shop. If you allow accessibility to non-cardholders, it would result in shortage of supplies at these outlets to those who survive on these supplies every month.
The ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ may at first instance look like having considerable utility to migrants. Limitation of the incomplete value chain backed by infrastructure, unavailability of point of sale systems at PDS shops, and states coming on board, are the present detriments to its implementation today, which has to be sorted out first and hence would fail to address the immediate issues being faced by migrant workers. There is also a possibility of workers taking ration from one shop and then identifying themselves as non-cardholder in another shop. Measures have to be first put in place to plug these loopholes before the scheme can be rolled out.
The Government probably has not even given a thought about how much stock of food grain supplies to send to which shop, given that every shop has a fixed quota, which then could turn into a major logistical problem.
The provision for concessional INR 2 lakh crores credit to be provided to 2.5 crore farmers, including fishermen will take its own sweet time to be implemented.
The first step in this, being the roll out of the Kisan Cards to these proposed beneficiaries has to be first completed before the modalities of this scheme can even be thought out.
The proposal of providing credit facility of INR 5,000 crores for 50 lakh street vendors also looks like being devoid of merits. Simple mathematics tells us that it would translate into a working capital facility of only INR 10,000 per street vendor for a month.
Street vendors would definitely prefer cash transfers than just getting ‘easy access to credit facility’ and that too only ‘within a month’. An immediate financial help would have been a more credible form of income support considering the fact that they had no sales since the start of lockdown in March last week.
What is expected of the Government today is to provide measures which would result in immediate relief to those in distress. Long term measures are not what would excite today considering the red-tapism in the Government machinery.
What we want today is economic relief that we can see, feel and immediately benefit. Not what now we see and now we don’t.