Millennium Post

Rs 1.7 lakh crore stimulus to help poverty-stricken

Rs 1.7 lakh crore stimulus   to help poverty-stricken

New Delhi: Union Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced a comprehensive Rs 1.7 lakh crore package to deal with the impact of deadly Coronavirus outbreak. The benefits of the economic package, including free foodgrain and cooking gas to poor for three months, cash doles to women and poor senior citizens, will be released through direct cash transfers and food security measures aimed at giving relief to millions of poor hit by the nationwide lockdown.

While over 80 crore poor ration cardholders will each get 5 kg of wheat or rice and one kg of preferred pulses free of cost every month for the next three months, 20.4 crore women having Jan Dhan bank accounts would get one-time cash help of Rs 1,500 spread over three months.

Over 8.3 crore poor women, who were handed out free cooking gas connections since 2016, will get free LPG refills for the next three months, while poor senior citizens, widows and disabled will get ex-gratia cash of Rs 1,000.

"Since the lockdown has been in force (since Wednesday) and, therefore, we have come out with a package which will immediately take care of the concerns and welfare of poor and suffering workers and those who need immediate help," the Union Finance minister said at a news conference here.

The package, she said, is being announced within 36 hours of the 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by the Prime Minister. "We do not want anyone to remain hungry." She hinted at more announcements if the need arises.

"So, today's measures are very clearly aimed at reaching out with food and money that they need to have it in their hands. We will obviously think about other things. I will gradually address if there is more to attend," she said.

The package included advancing the payment of one-third of the Rs 6,000 a year pre-2019 general election cash dole scheme for farmers, government contributions to retirement funds for the next three months of small companies with 90 per cent of staff earning less than Rs 15,000, and Rs 50 lakh insurance cover to healthcare workers. For rural workers, the daily wage under the MNREGA employment guarantee programme has been increased to Rs 202 from Rs 182, benefiting 5 crore workers of about Rs 2,000 in all.

While the free food grains and pulses would cost Rs 45,000 crore, Rs 2,000 payment to 8.7 crore farmers under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana will cost Rs 16,000 crore.

The cash to women Jan Dhan account holders will cost Rs 31,000 crore and another Rs 13,000 crore is estimated to be the expenditure for providing free cooking gas.

With businesses closed during the lockdown, the government will contribute employees as well as employer's contribution to the Provident Fund for the next three months of companies with up to 100 employees with 90 per cent earning not more than Rs 15,000. The contribution will be a total of 24 per cent of eligible wages.

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