October 6, 2020, New Delhi: A petition by The Tamil Nadu Alliance, in collaboration with CSO networks from 23 states, draws over 1.5 million signatures in just 20 days. The petition demands monthly direct cash assistance of Rs.6000 to families affected by the lockdown. It appeals to the government to support Rs.6000 for four months to the unorganised workers and other vulnerable communities to reduce the impact of lockdown on their economic condition and to prevent hunger, risky borrowing, human trafficking, bonded labour and child labour.
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a global health crisis with 35,216,168 cases and 1,037,340 deaths worldwide. The nationwide lockdown owing to the pandemic has led to job losses of 189 lakhs in the months of April to July. Among them, more than 70% were daily wageworkers, hawkers and small traders and they have been compelled to dip into their limited savings to survive. The sudden lockdown brought forth a huge migrant crisis where lakhs of migrant workers faced sudden loss of work and income. According to the government rural jobs scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGS), upto 24.2 million rural households had applied for work under its act in last month, a 66% increase from August last year and as per their survey, it is estimated that over 25% migrants are searching for work in villages as late as July. Due to the lockdown and its impact on migrants, in the months ahead, children will be in a critical condition and forced to work to meet household expenses. With economic activity now opening, there is a risk of returning migrants taking children along with them to the cities – or simply letting the children go with traffickers.
The objective behind the petition is to protect vulnerable populations and provide safety amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. At this juncture, is it essential for the state to provide direct support both in terms of food and cash to its citizens in need. The support under PDS till November will assist the people with ration cards but should be extended. However, along with ration it is essential to provide cash in the hands of the people who have lost jobs and have no income.
Speaking on the petition Dr P. Balamurugan of TNA said, “India needs to protect its vulnerable population and we urge immediate cash assistance of Rs. 6000 per month, for four months to be directly provided by the Government. This assistance will provide liquidity to the vulnerable families below poverty line. We have worked together in the past few weeks collecting the signatures to showcase solidarity among the affected families and we hope our petition will be approved by our esteemed Prime Minister to actualize this into reality. We were amazed by the speed of the response from across the country – people in desperate conditions want their needs to be heard”.
The direct cash assistance intends to minimise the distress of these groups. The amount will be a safeguard to crores of migrant workers, un-organised workers, street vendors, and self-employed small business communities who have lost work, wages and livelihood income. It will give them access to essential food commodities, medical care, payment of rent, and other supplementary expenses. It would also be a safety net to minimise the hunger stress and the associated possibilities of human trafficking, bonded labour practices, child marriage, and child labour due to financial loss.
Tamil Nadu Alliance is a focal point of civil society organisations working for the welfare of workers in textile supply chain. Their effort aligns with the government’s effort to provide safety of every Indian amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. NGO networks such as Tirupur Peoples Forum, Multi Stakeholder Initiative -Tamil Nadu, Campaign Against Camp Coolie System, Migrant Workers Rights Coalition, Campaign Against Child Labour, Shout for Freedom, COLLECT, Manipur Alliance for Child Rights and bonded labour survivors collectives and sex workers collectives participated in the campaign actively.