Even before the Coronavirus pandemic hit us, India was one among the most malnourished countries. It was expected that Covid-19 would deal a death blow to the poor in India that has one of the worst development indicators. The situation got worse when the government imposed a stringent lockdown last year without making adequate preparations.

Now, the government is making unsuccessful attempts to restore India’s dignity and economy by promising free vaccine and rations. In a recent paper, economists Jean Dreze and Anmol Somanchi highlighted the extent of food deprivation experienced by the poor after the 2020 lockdown in India by analyzing survey data. All economic activities came to a standstill in the country after the Covid-19 lockdown that was regarded as the toughest one in the world. It is now clear that the lockdown impacted income and employment generation. The survey has revealed that there is a huge fall in income of people after the lockdown when compared to their pre-lockdown income.

Non-agriculturist participants of the survey  reported that  their income was Rs 6,858 in March 2020 that fell to Rs 1,929 in May 2020 and remained the same till September 2020. Their days without work that was at 7.3 per cent in the beginning of March 2020 shot up to 23.6 per cent in the first week of May 2020 and remained high at 16.2 per cent till September 2020 first week.  About 52 per cent of the people who had jobs before the lockdown lost their jobs in May 2020 and the breadwinners of the remaining 20 per cent families had their jobs but their income had reduced substantially. Dreze and Somanchi argue that the impact of the lockdown on the Indian economy is not temporary. They show that it is unlikely that the income and jobs would be restored to their pre-lockdown levels.

Similar to income-related issues, surveys have also drawn attention to the increase in food insecurity. About 53 per cent to 77 per cent participants in the survey have stated that their food consumption has reduced now when compared to pre-Covid days. This situation has not changed even after the lockdown was lifted, they said.

The survey conducted by the Centre for Sustainable Employment of Azim Premji University is more worrisome. It says that around 60 per cent of the people surveyed have stated that their consumption of food between September-November was lower when compared to their food intake before the pandemic.. The situation of those living in abject poverty is far worse. A substantial number of migrant labourers consumed less than two meals a day in May 2020. Similarly, according to a study conducted by Pradhan, a not-for-profit organization, half the laborers of the unorganized sector in rural areas are consuming less food than what they used to have earlier.

The fact that there has been a reduction in nutrition levels in the food consumed during the lockdown is equally worrying. Though there was no difference in the amount people spent on pulses, there was a huge fall in the amount spent on consuming protein-rich food such as eggs, meat, fish, and different types of fruits.  There was a 50 per cent reduction in the amount that people spent on meat and fish

In the midst of this, the Indian Public Distribution System that provides food grains for free or at low prices emerged as a ray of hope. During the lockdown, the Centre and state governments announced supply of free food grains and increased the quota of food grains.  About 89 per cent of Indians obtained food grains under the PDS and an equal number of Indians escaped hunger by receiving free food grains as part of different schemes during the lockdown.

With Covid-19 second wave raging this summer, many states have implemented lockdowns. But the government is unable to prevent the kind of humanitarian crisis that the country faced last year. The relief measures announced for lockdown is not yielding results as expected. Though the amount of financial aid provided has been the same as last year, it is not reaching the beneficiaries. Due to problems in the public distribution system at the state levels, it has not been possible to distribute free food grains provided by the Centre. The immediate need is for the Centre and state governments to coordinate and work in tandem to ensure efficient distribution of food grains and financial aid and make sure that crores of Indians are saved from the crisis. The onus is on the government to uplift the country after lockdown, for which preparations must start immediately. In the fight against infectious diseases, nutritious food is as much important as vaccines. The government should also consider the danger of infectious diseases that malnutrition can precipitate in the future.

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Bengaluru, Jun 12: Karnataka police on Saturday said they have busted a Rs 290 crore plus scam that involved duping people through a mobile app after promising attractive interest on investment and two Chinese nationals were among the nine arrested.

The scam, aided by shell companies, is linked to money laundering and the suspected kingpin is a Kerala based business man with proximity to Chinese 'hawala' operators, they said.

Cyber Crime Division of CID said it has arrested accused persons, including two Chinese nationals, two Tibetans and five others acting as directors of the companies involved, and a search is on for the rest.

A complaint from Razor pay Software Private Limited said accused persons availed 'payment solutions' from them, claiming that they are in gaming, social and e-commerce businesses.

They, however, defrauded the company by using computer resources and by deviating from their original, registered line of business, the plaint said.

They started routing their transactions to collect payments from a different business named "Powerbank", an app listed in Google Playstore, cyber police said in a release.

Through customer complaints, the complainant company got to know that public invested money in the "Powerbank" app to earn interest on the invested amount.

The accused persons, after accepting the investments, neither gave the agreed interest nor the principal amount and cheated customers.

A case was registered under the Information Technology Act and 420 IPC (Cheating), the CCD said and added that the investigating team were successful in arresting nine men.

During investigation, it was found that Anas Ahmed, a Kerala based businessman, is the main person involved.

"We have also identified that he has very proximate connections with the Chinese hawala operators, which has come to light during the course of the investigation.

He had opened shell companies in the name of Bull Finch Technologies, H & S ventures and Clifford ventures to route the fraud money. Anas Ahamed is married to Chinese national and incidentally he did his studies in China," police said in the release.

Online applications hosted by him were later camouflaged and converted into different apps including Power Bank application, seeking investment from the public and promising good returns, the CCD said.

An unusual spike was seen in investments on the day Anees Ahmed announced much higher returns.

Subsequently, such apps were removed from Google Playstore and other websites and he absconded with the money.

Investigation showed Rs 290 crore inflow into his bank accounts and the CCD was successful in freezing a significant portion of it. There was a huge spike in opening of shell companies since November 2020.

"We have also observed that the Chinese handlers are in possession of a huge number of shell companies and bank accounts. Lured by the offer of the Chinese nationals, many innocent Indians and Tibetans have fallen in their trap to open shell companies and open bank accounts for them."