Government announces Rs 1.75-lakh-crore scheme to help economically weaker sections amid coronavirus lockdown

New Delhi: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced a Rs 1.75-lakh-crore scheme to help the economically weaker sections survive the loss of jobs and income that would be the inevitable fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
On the second day of the 21-day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Finance Minister outlined a bailout package for them. For now, the government’s priority is to consider the poor, said the minister, who is heading a task force evaluating the financial impact of the outbreak and charting out the way ahead.
“No one will go hungry,” she assured, adding that “other concerns” would be “considered separately”. The measures announced on Thursday will come into effect immediately, said Anurag Thakur, the junior minister of Sitharaman, who also attended the press conference.
The Rs 1,75,000-crore scheme, dubbed the “Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan scheme”, will “address the concerns of poor, migrant workers and those who need help”, Nirmala Sitharaman said. Besides food, the scheme has a cash component. Divided under eight heads, this covers all sections of society, including pensioners, women and the specially abled, the minister said.
“The poor and the needy will get 5 kg extra wheat or rice free for the next three months. This is over and above what they already receive under the National Food Security Act. They will also get 1 kg pulses free for next three months,” the minister said.
The government also announced a special Rs 50 lakh medical insurance cover to the frontline workers toiling to avert the crisis. “With a deep sense of gratitude, I announce that all medical staff, Aasha workers, paramedics, doctors and nurses, will get this insurance,” Sitharaman said, quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to them as “Gods in white”.
For farmers, the government will release the first tranche of their yearly payment of Rs 6,000 under the direct cash transfer scheme. Across the country, three crore widows, pensioners and the specially abled would receive a one-time ex-gratia payment of Rs 1,000, the minister said.
Around 20 crore women who have Jan Dhan accounts, will receive an ex gratia of Rs 500 per month for the next three months. Nearly 8.3 crore Below Poverty Line families will also get free cooking gas cylinders for the next three months.
Those under the women self-help groups of Deen Dayal Upadhyay Yojana, who are eligible for collateral-free loans of up to Rs 10 lakh, can now get Rs 20 lakh, the minister said.
For the organised sector, the minister announced a special update on provident funds and withdrawal limits. The centre, she said, would pay the provident fund share of both the employer and employee for the next three months. This, however, will be applicable to establishments that have up to 100 employees and 90 per cent of these employees earn less than Rs 15,000 per month.
The employees, Sitharaman said, will be able to get non-refundable advance to 75 per cent from the fund or three months’ wages — whichever is less – from their EPFO.
The government has also created a “District Minerals Fund”. Ms Sitharaman said the centre would “allow the state governments to use this central fund to help in testing and other measures to battle the pandemic,” which has already affected more than 600 people in the country and cost 13 lives.
The government’s bailout package comes as migrant labourers working in large metros across the country have started footing it to their homes, uncertain that they would get even one square meal a day. Many states, like Delhi, Kerala and Bengal, have already announced schemes and made arrangements to feed the homeless.