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Digitisation makes welfare schemes possible. It can be discontinued when pandemic ends

14th July 2020
Digitisation makes welfare schemes possible. It can be discontinued when pandemic ends
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Photo credit: The Indian Express

By Gaurav Gupta, Rohini Nilekani and Roopa Kudva

In a welcome move, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, which targets 800 million people for free rations through the Public Distribution System, has been extended until November. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, a massive effort is being undertaken to minimise the economic impact on our most vulnerable population. Schemes such as Jan Dhan, PM Kisan and PM Ujjwala aim to transfer Rs 532 billon to 420 million people. These efforts have proved to be reasonably successful. With this success, and with so many people now in danger of slipping into poverty, it is imperative to create a regime, even with a sunset clause, of universal benefits.

We have commissioned a multi-round survey of 47,000 households, mostly below poverty line, across 15 states. The surveys explore whether relief schemes have been working as intended, who is missing out and what more is needed. Our data revealed the immediate, and likely long-lasting ,nature of the economic shock. Primary income earners in two-thirds of the households have lost their jobs or wages. The average family has lost more than 60 per cent of its pre-crisis income and is now making just Rs 4,000/month. Twenty four per cent of low-income households have run out of money and supplies. Forty per cent families are in debt. In some states, as many as one in five primary income earners do not expect to find work in the near future.

In this dire situation, government relief has been an important lifeline. Ninety four per cent of eligible families had received extra PDS rations by end May and 80 per cent had received cash entitlements averaging close to Rs 2,000. Our data also suggests that about five million households could have both run out of savings and not received any cash transfer from the government.

To know more, read the full op-ed here.