As Migrants Return Home, Uttar Pradesh Faces Challenge To Feed Hungry Crores

Earlier this month the UP government said 6.94 lakh metric tonnes of rice had been distributed among 13.88 crore people (more than half the state's population)

Over 20 lakh migrant workers have returned to UP during the coronavirus lockdown (Representational)

Lucknow:

Uttar Pradesh faces an enormous challenge in the coming days - that of feeding crores of men and women left jobless by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

To add to the burden of India's most populous state, more than 20 lakh migrant workers have returned over the past two months. Lakhs more are expected to make their way home in the days to come.

On paper, the UP government has said it stands ready to meet this challenge.

Earlier this month the Yogi Adityanath administration said that 6.94 lakh metric tonnes had been distributed among 13.88 crore people (more than half the state's population); this translates to five kilograms of rice per person. This is in addition to subsidised food grains.

The government also said that 8.66 lakh new ration cards had been distributed over the past two months, including those for newly-returned migrant workers.

Is this enough?

In eastern UP's remote and backward Sonbhadra district, Ravindra Prasad Paswan, 35, a migrant worker who returned from Gujarat last month, said he is still struggling to get a ration card.

"I went to the pradhan (village chief) and gave him my form. He said he was sending it ahead and asked me to check with the dealer. I went to the dealer, but he said it had not been made. The problem is that I was working in Gujarat... whatever money I had was spent there. I have a wife, a child. How will I eat?" he asked.

In Sonbhadra, it isn't just the migrant workers who are worried.

In the Kachnarwa Gram Panchayat lies a cluster of villages crippled by disease and extreme poverty. Here over 100 ration card applications are mired in red tape.

"We have activated 142 forms in the last few months but another 100 remain. Those whose cards have been activated, they will start getting ration from June 1," Uday Yadav, the village chief, said.

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The UP government has said it is ready to feed to lakhs of migrants returning home without jobs and money amid the coronavirus lockdown

Those in charge of food distribution in Sonbhadra have admitted there is a mismatch between those applying for ration cards and those actually getting them.

"A total of 18,150 people have applied for new ration cards. We have data from 7,598 people but we have reached our upper limit for the district, so we have not been able to feed the other's data into the system," Rakesh Kumar Tiwari, the district's procurement officer, said.

Meanwhile, officials in Gonda in eastern UP told NDTV they had received 32,000 new applications since the lockdown was announced in March. Of these, only 10,946 have been processed.

In Deoria, which has emerged as a hub for returning migrants, officials said they had processed 70,000 applications in two months. However, they refused to share the number of applications still pending.