Centre announces Rs 1.7 lakh crore package for poor, Rs 50 lakh medical cover for coronavirus fighters

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday (March 26, 2020) announced Rs 1.7 lakh crore financial package for the poor to help them deal with the ongoing crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic. Addressing a press briefing, the FM said, ”A package is ready for the poor who need immediate help like migrant workers and urban and rural poor. No one will go hungry. The package is worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore.”

The Rs 1,70,000-crore scheme, dubbed the “Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan scheme” will “address the concerns of poor, migrant workers and those who need help”, she said. The FM also announced Rs 50 lakh per person insurance cover for doctors, paramedic and healthcare workers dealing with coronavirus outbreak.

The Finance Minister said the government will front-load Rs 2,000 payment to farmers in the first week of April under the existing PM Kishan Yojana to benefit 8.69 crore farmers.

”8.69 crore farmers will be immediately benefited through Direct cash transfers. Instalment of Rs 2,000 in the first week of April will be transferred,” she said.

”As many of 20.5 crore women Jan Dhan Account holders will get Rs 500 per month for next three months to run their households. For poor senior citizens, widow and disabled will get an ex-gratia of Rs 1,000,” the FM said. ”Also, the daily wage under MNREGA has been increased to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182 to benefit 5 crore workers,” she added.

Also, the beneficiaries of Ujjwala LPG scheme will get free cooking gas for the next three months, she said. This forms part of the Rs 1.70 lakh crore Gramin Kalyan Package.

Sitharaman also announced distribution of 5 kg of wheat or rice and one kg of preferred pulses free-of-cost every month over the next three months to 80 crore poor across the country to deal with the economic impact of the lockdown amid coronavirus outbreak.

”Nearly 80 crore poor people have been covered (2/3rd of India’s population), in addition to already allotted 5Kg of rice/wheat per person, an additional 5kg will be free. Additional 1kg pulse (according to regional preference) will be given,” the FM said.

FM also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 to 3 crore poor senior citizen, poor widows and poor disabled.

Making an important announcement, the FM said that the government will pay the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) contribution, both of employer and employee.

”Put together it will be 24%, this will be for next 3 months. This is for those establishments which have upto 100 employees and 90% of them earn less than 15,000.” the FM said.

”Govt is ready to amend the regulation of EPF due to this pandemic so that workers can draw upto 75% non-refundable advance from credit in PF account or 3 months’ salary, whichever is lower, ” the FM said adding, ”This decision is going to benefit 4.8 crore workers.”

The Finance Minister, who is heading the task force evaluating the financial fallout of this outbreak and chart out the course ahead, outlined a bailout package for the people and industry today.

Earlier this week, the Finance Minister had said a package is under works and will be announced. With the coronavirus lockdown hitting the Indian industry hard and causing job losses, Sitharaman had said an economic package to help tide over the crisis will be announced very soon.

Sitharaman told reporters an announcement on the package would be made sooner than later. Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week had constituted a task force headed by the Finance Minister to work out package for economy hit by coronavirus.

As per Union Health Ministry`s latest bulletin, the total number of COVID-19 positive cases has climbed to 649 in the country, including 593 active cases, 42 cured or discharged people and 13 deaths.

It may be noted that the Prime Minister, for a second time in a week, on Tuesday evening announced a 21-day countrywide lockdown from midnight due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

PM Modi stressed that “social distancing” is the only option to deal with the disease, which spreads rapidly. In his televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Modi said that it is vital to break the chain of the disease and experts have said that at least 21 days are needed for it.

The Prime Minister, who had also addressed the nation last week, said the lockdown has drawn a “Lakshman Rekha” in every home and people should stay indoors for their own protection and for that of their families.

The 21-day lockdown has seen anxious people scrambling to nearby shops for essential supplies and services, prompting the government to urge citizens not to panic. E-commerce companies delivering essentials like groceries, medicines and food, however, alleged harassment from law enforcement officials and security guards, leading to severe inconvenience in times of an unprecedented crisis, calling for an urgent intervention from the government.

Despite the lockdown that has taken buses off the road and trains off the track, many migrant labourers have started on their way home, willing to risk sealed borders and vigilant policemen, who are tasked with ensuring that people not leave their homes except for most pressing need.