In the few days since PM Modi announced a complete lockdown of the country, we have seen and read countless reports of the poor of this country, the daily wage labourers and the homeless to be precise, walking thousands of kilometres to get to their native villages.

labourers walking home
Source: Twitter

Now, while the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman announcing a sort of relief package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore is much appreciated, it is highly inadequate at a time like this.

nirmala sitharaman
Source: Bloomberg Quint

The announced package is wide-ranged, to say the least but it falls short of what is needed to support the poor and to prevent the upcoming economic slowdown.

nirmala Sitharaman
Source: Telegraph India

Sitharaman's announcement of 5 kg of rice/wheat per person free for the next three months and one kg pulse per family is a welcome gesture but that's all it is. Because there is no mention of vulnerable families excluded from the PDS system.

Source: Swarajya

Daily wage labourers like construction workers, a majority of whom are not registered under the Building and Other Construction Workers Board. Hence the restriction of emergency support to only the registered workers is, kindly speaking, just poor planning.

Source: Twitter

In fact, these financial reliefs should have been announced days prior to the lockdown.

And while PM Modi mentioned the poor during his long and theatrical announcement of the lockdown and suggested that people should help each other, and the FM started her speech with not letting anyone go hungry, to honestly believe that a set of one-time food and cash rations to poor households would be enough to protect them is pure disillusionment.

Besides, there have been no addressing of how to deal with the barriers that the lockdown itself puts on the implementation of said policies. How will you send money to people with no bank accounts?

And if you do, how do they go out and take that cash out especially when cops all over the country believe that their lathis can cure the coronavirus?

There has been no announcement of schemes except a small financial package, to assure the poor that they would be tested for the virus. There has been no information if they will have access to a health system or if they will have to pay for it. Will they have hospital beds and ventilators? They don't know.

Source: India Today

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, we have all seen news of labourers walking thousands of kilometres back to their villages. So what we need are shelters and community kitchens for stranded migrant workers and others that also make sure that social distancing is followed.

Then there are people who we do not see as labourers but are an essential part of the informal workforce as anyone else. What about the domestic help and the driver, the vendors (many of whom have been assaulted by the cops) ?

The central government has not given them any assurances about them getting paid. These are also people, and while it seems unfathomable to many of my privileged ilk, they are human beings and need to be given paid leaves at least.

The central government needs to work with its states to make sure that these things are taken care of. Hopefully, this was just one of many relief packages. Because,if it's not, an economic slowdown will be the least of our concerns.