India frees 20 billion euros to feed its poor in the midst of the coronavirus crisis

In front of a pharmacy in Ahmedabad, Thursday March 26.
In front of a pharmacy in Ahmedabad, Thursday March 26. SAM PANTHAKY / AFP

“We don’t want anyone to go hungry or go without money”. By unveiling an emergency plan for the most deprived, Thursday March 26 in the early afternoon, the Minister of Finance of India, Nirmala Sitharaman, wanted to show that the government had understood the magnitude of the problem posed by the confinement of the whole country and its 1.3 billion inhabitants, declared two days earlier by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. “We are trying to reach out to women, migrant workers and disadvantaged sections of society, with a set of measures that will address the concerns of these people”, announced Mme Sitharaman.

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The plan, which is worth 1.7 trillion rupees (20.6 billion euros), aims to immediately secure food for the 800 million poorest people on the subcontinent. Each of them will be entitled, from 1er April and as long as the confinement imposed by the coronavirus pandemic continues, and even beyond – the minister having spoken of an operational device for three months -, to “5 kilos of rice or wheat and 1 kilo of lentils of their choice per month”, which are the staple foods in India.

Interior migrants without a single rupee

These distributions are intended for the inhabitants of the countless slums (slums), but also to the most disadvantaged of the countryside as well as to internal migrants, these populations generally originating from the northern states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, who live odd jobs in big cities like Bombay or Delhi. In the capital alone, there are more than 6.3 million according to the 2011 census, which represents 40% of the city’s population. The informal economy, which is characterized by the payment of wages on a daily basis, and in cash, accounts for 90% of jobs in India and around 20% of gross domestic product (GDP).

A number of these migrants, panicked at the prospect of finding themselves out of work, managed to return to their homeland by jumping on the last trains in circulation on Sunday, March 22. The Indian press reports that others left on foot. But most of them find themselves trapped in town, without a single rupee in their pocket and with nothing to eat. Especially since the food stores initially believed that they had to keep their doors closed because of the confinement, the government having not been clear enough on the essential businesses authorized to stay in business.

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