The Union government on Thursday announced a ₹1.7 lakh crore package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and countrywide lockdown, providing free food and cash transfers to support the poorest citizens who are most vulnerable during the crisis.
The food grain ration for 80 crore poor people would be doubled for the next three months, supplemented by a kg of local pulses as well, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday.
Also read | Highlights of the coronavirus lockdown package
The Centre would provide ₹50 lakh medical insurance cover for the next three months for about 22 lakh health workers in government hospitals fighting the spread of the virus at personal risk, including ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers, medical sanitary workers in government hospitals, paramedics, nurses and doctors.
The Pradhan Mantri Gharib Kalyan Yojana had been announced within 36 hours of the lockdown and it would take care of the needs of poor and migrant workers, farmers, women, pensioners, widows and the disabled, said Ms Sitharaman.
“We do not want anyone to remain hungry, so we will be giving enough to take care of their food grain requirement, protein requirement in terms of pulses. On the other hand, they should also not remain without money in hand, so several measures through DBT are being taken so that money reaches them,” she said.
Over the next three months, each person who is covered under the National Food Security Act would get an additional five kg wheat or rice for free, in addition to the 5 kg of subsidised foodgrain already provided through the Public Distribution System (PDS). One kg of pulse a household would also be provided for free, according to regional preferences. This would benefit about 80 crore people, she said.
Cash transfers -- a mix of advances via existing schemes and additional sums -- would also be given to vulnerable groups under the Pradhan Mantri Gharib Kalyan Yojana.
About 3 crore poor pensioners above 60 years, widows and disabled people would be given ₹1000 in two instalments over the next three months. The 20 crore women holding Jan Dhan Yojana accounts would get ₹500 a month over the next three months as well. The 8.3 crore poor households, which received cooking gas connections under the Ujjwala scheme, would now get free gas cylinders for the same period.
Wages were being hiked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme, from ₹182 to ₹202 a day. Although the Minister said this would provide an additional ₹2000 a worker, many States have in fact closed down MGNREGA worksites to curb the spread of COVID-19, leaving it unclear how many workers would be able to benefit.
For land-owning farmers, there is only the promise that the first instalment of ₹2000 due to them under the PM-KISAN income support scheme will be paid promptly in April, the first month of the financial year.
For small companies with 100 employees or less, of whom 90% earn less than ₹15,000 a month, the Centre will bear the cost of both employer and employee contribution (a total of 24%) to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) for the next three months. This will benefit 80 lakh employees, and incentivise 4 lakh establishments.
In a move to provide relief to all 4.8 crore organised sector workers registered under the EPF, the scheme's regulations will also be amended to allow non-refundable advance of 75% of the amount standing to the credit of the member, or 3 months worth of wages, whichever is lower.
Collateral free loans provided for women self-help groups under the National Rural Livelihood Mission are being doubled to ₹20 lakh, potentially benefiting seven crore households.
The Centre is directing the States to use the ₹31,000 crore sitting with the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Boards to provide support to the 3.5 crore workers registered under the scheme. The States can also use the money available under district mineral funds for medical screening, testing and treatment.