Expansion of Social Security Net is Need of the Hour

Synopsis:

The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have hurt the poor on multiple fronts of healthcare, livelihood, and hunger. Both urban and rural regions are facing difficulties, however, miseries in rural regions were less due to wide coverage of social security net. This calls for expanding social security nets across the country.

Background:
  • The April 2020 lockdown brought immense misery for the people of India. It’s been almost a year and masses have now learned to adapt to the new normal.
  • Nonetheless, the situation for the poor has been worse as they were hit on multiple fronts including healthcare, livelihood and hunger.
Dismal State of Affairs:
  • The State of Working India report 2021 shows that nearly half of formal salaried workers moved into informal work between late 2019 and late 2020. Further, the poorest 20% of the households lost their entire income in April and May 2020.
  • Greater Hardships for Urban Regions: Hunger Watch (HW) Survey 2021 was conducted in 11 States in October 2020. It found that:
    • In October, 26% had no income in rural areas while 30% had no income in urban areas.
    • While 54% in urban areas had to borrow money for food, it was 16% lower for rural respondents. 
    • Urban respondents were 15 percentage points worse off compared to their rural counterparts across 13 key parameters.
  • Disproportionate impact on Vulnerable sections: As per HW survey, the situation is worse when data is observed in terms of caste, religion, and other special forms of vulnerability.
    • For instance, 60% of Muslims, 51% of Dalits, and 56% of single women-headed households went to bed without a meal at least once. 

However, some form of relief was provided by social security nets during these turbulent times.

Relief provided:
  • National Food Security Act: Under this, 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population are entitled to 5 kg of foodgrains each month at subsidised prices.
    • The government announced additional grains for the poor under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana.
    • Further, an additional entitlement of 5 kg of foodgrains per individual and 1 kg of pulses per household for free was available. Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cardholders under the NFSA, were eligible for this benefit.
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA): It guarantees 100 days of work a year to every rural household with an aim to enhance the livelihood security of people.
    • There was a 47% increase in person-days of work under MGNREGA in 2020-21 in comparison to 2019-20. Further, a record 72 lakh households completed 100 days of work in one year.
Reasons behind less distress for Rural areas:
  • First, employment guarantee schemes like MGNREGA are not available for urban regions.
  • Second, the coverage of rural regions is more under NFSA in comparison to urban areas i.e. 75% versus 50%.
  • Third, the availability of ration cards was higher in rural regions than urban areas. Around 56% of respondents had NFSA cards in rural regions while only 27% had them in urban areas.  
Way Forward:
  • The Central government must immediately expand the coverage and quantity under the NFSA for at least one year.
  • It should increase MGNREGA entitlements to 200 days per household from the current 100 days commitment. 
    • States like Odisha and Himachal Pradesh have already added 50 days and increased it to 150 days in a year. 
  • A guaranteed urban employment programme on the lines of MGNREGA can provide protection to the urban poor.
  • Further, the government must offer a wage compensation of Rs. 7,000 per poor household for the next few months.

In a nutshell, we need to expand the social security net in order to meet basic requirements of at least 33 crore poor households in India.

Source: The Hindu

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