Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday announced a relief package worth ₹1 lakh 70 thousand crores, labelled the 'Pradhaan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Scheme' (PMGKS). The scheme, she said, will be oriented towards the poor, migrant workers and women - the section of society expected to be hit the hardest by the lockdown imposed by the government to combat the spread of COVID-19. The overall package has been announced through two verticals - spanning food security and direct benefit transfer. Along with these measures, the finance minister announced a ₹50 lakh per capita health cover for frontline healthcare workers such as paramedical staff, doctors, sanitary workers, nurses and ASHA workers.
"These measures will come into immediate effect," said the finance minister as a response to a question on its implementation.
The first silo of PMGKS, pertained to food security, called 'Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana', under which 80 crore poor persons - two thirds of India's population, according to the finance minister - will get 5 kilos of rice or wheat each month, for the next 3 months. This would be in addition to the 5 kilos these beneficiaries already take via public distribution systems. Besides this, 1 kg of pulses (based on regional preferences) will be given per household, which can be taken in two installments.
Second, the finance minister broke down direct benefit transfers into 9 broad beneficiary brackets:
1. Farmers - Farmers are already receiving ₹6,000 under the PM Kisaan Samman Nidhi. Now, the first instalment of ₹2,000 will given upfront in first week of April. This is expected to benefit 8.69 crore farmers.
2. MGNREGA - A wage increase in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was announced from ₹182 to ₹202 per day. This is expected to give wage benefits worth ₹2,000 per worker and will benefit 5 crore families.
3. Poor widows, pensioners and divyang - A one-time amount of ₹1000 will be given ex-gratia. This is expected to benefit 3 crore poor senior citizens, and will be available in 2 instalments.
4. Women Jan Dhan account holders - 20 crore women jan dhan accounts holders will receive an ex-gratia one time amount of ₹500 per month for next 3 months.
5. Women Ujjavala scheme beneficiaries - 3 months of free cylinders for women beneficiaries of the Ujjavala scheme, expected to benefit 8.3 crores families
6. Self help group women dealing with livelihood missions: This move is expected to impact 7 crore beneficiaries through 63 lakh self help groups. Under existing schemes such as the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Yojana and the National Livelihood Mission, collateral free loans up to ₹10 lakhs are given. This is being doubled to ₹20 lakhs.
7. Organised sectors workers : The first of two benefits to be given to the organised sector workers is the Government of India contributing employees' and employers' share in their provident fund for a period of three months. However, this will only be available to establishment having upto 100 employees, with 90% drawing less than ₹15,000 wage. It will benefit staff in 4 lakh companies. Second, EPFO scheme regulations will be amended to allow non-refundable withdrawal of 75% or 3 months wages (whichever is lower), expected to benefit 4.8 crore workers.
8. Construction workers: Under a central government act, there is a fund for construction workers, having a corpus of ₹ 31,000 crores, with 3.5 crore registered workers. The government intends to give direction to state government to use this fund to prevent disruption in the lives of construction workers, citing their work coming to a halt due to the lockdown.
9. District mineral funds: A fund available at the district level, the government will request state governments for utilising this fund for supplementing medical testing, screening and other actions required to combat COVID-19.
Starting March 25, India is under a 3-week lockdown, as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a televised address to the nation to combat the spread of COVID-19 through a new coronavirus.
India has seen 649 cases and 13 deaths, as of the morning of March 26.
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