The restrictions were aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus – but brought all work to a standstill, resulting in daily wage earners across India losing their means of livelihood. Wherever possible, our volunteers and community reporters have been putting callers in distress in touch with the local administration or to civil society organisations. Credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters Given this situation, we are glad to hear the loud calls for universal public distribution from economists, politicians and civil society. The Central and state governments also announced a range of financial relief measures covering the widowed, the elderly, those with disabilities, farmers, the poor, and women with Jan-Dhan accounts. Bihar’s stronger performance in this area probably reflects the higher socio-economic profile of its constituents, as compared to other states where we ran the survey, to have better direct benefit transfer linkages. A significant reason for why people did not receive these cash transfers was the the oft-heard problem of their Aadhaar cards not being linked properly to their bank accounts. The easing of lockdown restrictions or restarting basic economic activity had yet to translate into improved circumstances for those in India’s heartlands, going by what we hear. Fear of infection or police action against those not wearing masks, and confusion about lockdown provisions, is likely to impede free physical movement for a few more weeks. Therefore, the Public Distribution System and other government-led efforts to provide cooked food for marginalised groups will continue to be a lifeline and must function seamlessly. Many states have taken steps to universalise the Public Distribution System to ensure that it reaches even those without ration cards, and it remains the most critical means to prevent starvation.
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