₹1,000 Crore from PM-CARES for Migrant Workers. But When Will It Really Reach Them?

Coronavirus

₹1,000 Crore from PM-CARES for Migrant Workers. But When Will It Really Reach Them?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

In March, just as India began its nationwide lockdown that is still in effect in May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of a new fund, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations, popularly known as PM-CARES Fund. The trustees of this fund were the PM himself and some senior Cabinet ministers. It was set up to accept tax-free donations, from individuals and corporate entities, but the inner workings of the fund – like the exact amount raised through these donations and where the funds would be allocated – were kept opaque. This raised questions from opposition parties, who pointed out that the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) predates PM-CARES and has been around since 1948, and state chief ministers who might have preferred the donations be made to their state relief funds instead. Finally, a month-and-a-half since its inception, the government has shared some of its plans regarding the PM-CARES fund.

A total of ₹3,100 crore from the PM-CARES fund is being allocated to help in the fight against Covid-19 in India. An official circular from the Prime Minister’s Office outlined how these funds would be used, stating, “Out of ₹3,100 crore, a sum of approximately ₹2,000 crore will be earmarked for the purchase of ventilators, ₹1,000 crore will be used for care of migrant labourers, and ₹100 crore will be given to support vaccine development.”

The money for the ventilators will be spent on products that are made in India, while the amount earmarked for vaccine development will be utilised under the supervision of the Principal Scientific Advisor, according to the circular. However, for those migrant labourers and workers hit hardest by the lockdown, the funds will be handed over to state governments and be intended to finance food, medical treatment, shelter, and other support. But will the red tape ensure that it reaches the right people at the right time?

It’s been close to two months since the migrant crisis began and little has been done to assuage their ongoing woes. Close to 400 people have died not because of the coronavirus but in road and rail accidents, because of starvation, police brutality, and exhaustion. Compensation has been announced for the 16 migrant workers crushed to death by a goods train in Maharashtra, but there are many more unreported and unaccounted deaths. What about them and their families?

Some believe, and rightly so, that the plight of the migrant workers in states across India has steadily worsened through this crisis, and that the money from the PM-CARES Fund is coming in too late for those who have already lost their lives.

Former finance minister P Chidambaram has said that the money will “not go to migrants to the hands of the migrant workers”.

What migrant workers want right now is a train ticket to go back home and not a relief package that will probably reach them months or even years later.

Even after this relief package was announced, it remains unclear exactly how much money there is in the PM-CARES Fund. Also, since it is set up as a private trust, the state auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), will not be auditing it, as claimed in a report by NDTV.

What the latest announcement from the government has done is inform the public about how it will be spending ₹3,100 crore from the fund, but what remains a mystery is how much money has been raised so far. And as far as migrant workers go, there seems to be no end to their suffering. The headlines from this morning – 14 killed in accidents in Madhya Pradesh and UP – are proof.

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