By Arjavi Indraneesh


The Covid pandemic has come as a great leveller. It has downed powerful heads of state and the commonest man on the street, irrespective of caste, creed, colour and climate. Covid has held a mirror to the dark underbellies of societies, which have so far remained hidden from public knowledge. It has also unearthed the gross inequalities that have come as a blot on man’s claim of progress and prosperity.


In the US, however, Covid has shown clear colour preferences even as it proved how hollow the so-called American dream has turned out to be just as it brought out futility of America’s claims of materialistic progress.


According to figures released by independent APM Research Lab, there has been a staggering divide in the Covid death rate between black Americans and the rest of the population, with three times more African-Americans dying from the disease in relation to the white population.


But much worse than that, it threw light on the wretched life the millions of black Americans were leading. In fact, the doles dished out as part of the US stimulus package made many of them better-off compared to their pre-Covid situations.


But much worse than that, it threw light on the wretched life the millions of black Americans were leading. According to a new survey from the Census Bureau quoted by major publications, since the pandemic began an astonishing 20 percent of African-American households with children do not have enough to eat ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’. The survey showed that their share in the population went up by 2 percentage points since the outbreak of the pandemic.


More startling is the fact the doles dished out as part of the US stimulus package made many of them better-off compared to their pre-Covid situations. A paper published by economists at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame even suggested that poverty in the US, as measured on an annual basis, may have actually fallen in April and May, thanks to the extra $600-a-week payments under the stimulus package.


The Covid outbreak in India also had its startling revelations. The virus infection and the lockdown that followed brought to light the ‘Other India’ of millions of migrant labour who were never part of the development agenda of successive Indian governments.


The Modi government has announced a few stimulus packages as part of its Covidsupport initiatives, but there is no way of determining how far these measures are going to make a difference to the plight of these people. Going by past experience, one can safely assume that it will make no difference.


The reverse migration from the urban centres has added millions to the army of rural unemployed people, whose only hope of gainful employment is the Mahatma Gandhi rural employment programme (MGNREGA). With the migrant labourers becoming eligible for participation in the employment guarantee programme, the scheme itself has been overburdened, which is expected to affect all the beneficiaries.


According to published estimates, at least 1.4 lakh poor rural households have already completed their quota of 100 days of work under MGNREGA in the first three months of the year. This means that they will not be eligible for further benefits under the rural employment guarantee scheme for the rest of the year. Another seven lakh households have completed 80 days and are on the verge of running out of work as well, according to the scheme’s database.


The original provision for employment guarantee under the scheme is for 100 days. But the scheme contains a provision that in districts affected by drought or other natural disaster the scheme can be extended to allow 150 days of work per household. This was made applicable to the works undertaken during the Covid outbreak as it has been declared a national disaster.


With the total outlay for the scheme fixed, the extension is expected to affect the total extent of employment it can provide. Although the 1.4 lakh families may only be a fraction of the 4.6 crore households who have benefited from the scheme this year, it is the poorest families that will be the hardest hit.


There have already been demands for the extension of the maximum number of days of employment allowed under the scheme in view of the serious crisis brought about by the national lockdown as part of the fight against Covid.


The latest of such calls came from Binoy Viswam, CPI Rajya Sabha MP, who urged in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to extend the quota of working days under the MGNREGA scheme to a minimum of 200 days and additionally, extend the limitations of the scheme to per adult individual rather than per household. (IPA Service)


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