Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs of India, briefed the media in the afternoon of March 26, 2020, on day two of lockdown to help the poor of the country. Recently, many states have announced financial aid for the poor including Kerala which had announced an economic package to the tune of Rs. 20,000 crores.
Key takeaways from the briefing are as follows:
- A financial package of Rs.1,70,000 crores were announced in the form of Cash transfers via Direct Benefit Transfer - DBT and food security related benefits;
- Primary beneficiaries include the Poor migrant workers, disadvantaged sections, Asha workers, sanitation workers and paramedics nurses (whom she referred to as “Gods In White Costumes”) and for such people involved in service for humanity a medical insurance cover of Rs. 50 lakh per person wasannounced;
- The scheme is named as Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan scheme and has two components namely,
A: PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (Food Related): which will provide 5 kg of additional rice (or wheat) per person for next 3 months. As of now 5 kg of rice (or wheat) is given per month to 80 crore poor people. Besides, 1 kg of pulse (regional) will be given additionally per household over and above the normally given (it can be taken over the period of 3 months in 2 installments);
B: DBT (Monetary help): Following specific announcements under various heads have been announced to combat COVID-19,
- Farmer: Under Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN), they will be given Rs. 2,000 immediately (in the first month of April most possibly as told by Anurag Thakur in the briefing). The farmers are given Rs. 6,000 under this scheme annually and 8.69 crore farmers will be therefore benefitted.
- MGNREGA: the government plans to increase the wage rate from Rs. 182 to Rs. 202 which will benefit 5 crore families and will result in Rs. 2,000 additional income roughly. Dist. Commissioners are given power to monitor and ensure social distancing in this regard.
- Pensioners, Poor widows and Divyang: An ex gratia amount of Rs. 1,000 will be given in two installments to benefit 3 crore poor.
- Poor women with Jan Dhan account: 20 crore such account holders will be getting ex gratia of Rs. 500 per month for next 3 months to run their household.
- Households under UJJWALA: free cylinders for next 3 months will be given to aid 8.3 crore BPL families to help them in cooking and fighting this lockdown.
- Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yoyana - NRLM: Rs.10 lakh collateral free loan earlier granted under this scheme is now doubled to Rs. 20 lakhs, which will benefit 63 lakh SHGs and impact 7 crore households which means roughly 35 crore people.
- Organized sector: For an organization with less than 100 employees and employee with less than 15,000 salary per month, government will provide for the EPF contribution of 12% from employer side as well as 12% from employee side. This will benefit 4lakh organizations and 80,000 workers.
- For bigger organizations, EPF regulations will be amended to allow nonrefundable advance of 75% of amount standing or 3-month wage (whichever is lower) which can be withdrawn. It will benefit 4.8 crore workers registered with EPF. Note that this is from their own money.
- Construction Workers: Direction to state govt to utilize central government welfare fund of Rs. 31,000 crore and provide support to construction workers to avoid any economic disruption.
- District Mineral Fund: In order to supplement testing and screening of the virus, the Center requested States to utilize District Mineral Fund in order to prevent spread of COVID-19.
The measures taken by the government were need of the hour in order to tackle the pandemic which has claimed the lives of over 37,000 people globally and has resulted in reporting of more than 1251 confirmed cases in India itself. It is important that all these benefits are percolated to targeted beneficiaries at the earliest and in an effective manner.