“All auto rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers in Delhi will be given Rs 5,000 each by the Delhi government so that they get a little help during this financial crisis,” said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
In addition the Chief Minister also announced free rations for all ration card holders in Delhi for two months.
These measures are to ameliorate the lot of the poor during the second Covid wave that has been playing havoc with the lives of Delhiites.
Delhi has been under total lockdown for more than 20 days now, and lockdown hits the poor daily wage earners more.
During the first wave of Covid-19, the Delhi government had provided similar financial assistance of Rs 5,000 to 1.56 lakh auto and taxi drivers, but in addition had paid Rs 10,000 to around 44,000 construction workers.
Construction workers too lost their livelihood when building activities came to a grinding halt.
Why does Kejriwal’s heart bleed only for auto rickshaw drivers every time?
To be sure, they have been his supporters and proclaim their affection for his Aam Aadmi Party proudly by carrying solidarity messages behind their vehicles.
However, Covid has thrown into disarray the livelihood of others as well, notable among them being domestic help. Fearing spread of the disease, households have shut their doors on them as most of them live in cloistered urban shanties singularly lacking in cross-ventilation, a prerequisite for preventing air-borne transmission.
Even otherwise households have been advised by the Covid protocol to avoid contact with outsiders as much as possible in the face of the grim prospect of asymptomatic persons spreading the disease without them knowing.
The point is if auto rickshaw drivers need succor in this hour of crisis due to lack of employment opportunities, so do domestic help and other service providers in the unorganised sector who eke out their living with their hard-earned daily wages.
But then those who work as domestic help, the term used metaphorically to mean all the daily wage earners in the unorganised sector, are not an organised lot. They are not voluble nor or they unionised. They are therefore left to suffer silently.
The US provides unemployment doles. India has no such measure in place. Philanthropic organisations have been doing their bit.
State governments must reach out to the domestic help with a Kejriwal-like dole.
The Narendra Modi government transferred Rs 500 each into the Jan Dhan accounts of women at the height of the Covid-19 first wave last year.
It was not much but at the same time nothing to scoff at either given the size of Indian population and lack of war-chest for this purpose.
It is, however, widely known that EPFO has a staggering Rs 80,000 crore unclaimed provident fund balance of lakhs of benighted workers who have failed to claim their dues through apathy or ignorance or both.
It is time the government made an all-out effort to reach out to them. One of the attempts made in this direction in the year 2015 was ushering in of unique access number (UAN) for each provident fund account holder so that no matters whether he is an itinerant labourer or chronic job-hopper, all his provident fund savings remained in one account conspicuously.
Good as the measure was, it has not awakened the poor workers who are oblivious of funds at their disposal. Now is the time more than ever before that their money languishing in their PF accounts will come in handy if they are allowed to withdraw.
Prime Minister Modi has so far in the second wave wisely refrained from announcing nation-wide lockdown having learnt lessons from the first. Lockdown could be counterproductive by bringing economic activity to a screeching halt besides being difficult to enforce in view of numerous exemptions in favour of essential services and producers of essential goods.
The disease is air-borne and lockdown might not help as much as wearing masks properly.
Of course, crowding is eminently and advisedly avoidable. State governments have done well to shut down malls, cinema theatres and other closed spaces where chances of transmission through human contact are more.
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