IN WHAT is the first economic package of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government after the lockdown imposed in the wake of Covid-19, tribal households in Maharashtra will get a special one-time grant, with the state cabinet, on Wednesday, clearing a Rs 436-crore stimulus package for tribal and forest-dwelling communities. Each tribal family will be eligible for a subsistence grant of Rs 4,000 under the revival scheme.
The state has a tribal population of 1.25 crore distributed among 11.55 lakh-odd households. But while the cabinet was unanimous on the need to issue the dole, ministers were divided over its nature.
The state’s tribal development department, headed by Congress minister K C Padavi, had proposed the dole in both cash and kind, but some other senior cabinet ministers and even the finance department favoured direct benefit cash transfers, on the ground that disbursement will be quicker and more effective.
Earlier in May, a high-level panel formed by the state government, to suggest measures for revival of the economy, had recommended cash transfers for vulnerable sections to cushion the impact of lockdown. The Congress, too, has pushed for the implementation of a NYAY-like scheme in the state, advocating direct cash transfers to economically weaker households hit by lockdown.
Padavi, however, had his way. The cabinet approval states that the cash dole will be limited to Rs 2,000 for urgent purchases, and the rest of the grant will be in kind in form of ration supplies and distribution of essential commodities.
But even the tribal department seems divided over the issue with several officials holding the view that procurement of items for disbursement in kind will delay aid. Tribal and forest-dwelling communities are among the worst-hit by prolonged lockdown. Bulk of the annual collections of minor forest produce takes place between April and June, which coincided with lockdown.
Further, with almost no construction activity, families that migrate to cities annually for a living were forced to beat an early retreat to villages.
This raised concerns over subsistence of tribal households. Already, complaints of undernourishment, maternal and child deaths abound in some of Maharashtra’s tribal belts.
In the past, Maharashtra has relied on state-run cash debt scheme for subsistence of tribal households during natural disasters. But in June 2019, the previous BJP-led government had, in the run-up to the Assembly polls, waived off arrears worth Rs 361 crore from tribal families under the cash debt scheme. The dues had amassed from 2009-10 onwards. Of the view that loan recovery from poor tribal households in such recessionary times will be difficult, this government has opted for providing a one-time grant instead.
A high-powered committee under Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) Manoj Kumar Saunik will oversee the scheme’s implementation. The government is aiming to make the first tranche of cash transfers within the next month or so.