By Sushil Kutty
Just when we the thought the Government had probably forgotten the poor caught in the storm created by the COVID-19 pandemic and would be left to reap the whirlwind, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Thursday announced a 1.7 lakh crore welfare package for poor daily wage workers and those in the unorganized sector who have no recourse to earn a living in light of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the nationwide lockdown.
“The government has been working so that those affected due to the novel coronavirus since the lockdown commenced on the intervening night of 24-25 March, will be reached out (to),” Sitharaman told media. “We have come up with a package which will take care of the welfare concerns of the poor.”
The Government announced the 1.7 crore welfare package to keep the poor in food and cooking means for upto three months under the ‘Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan Scheme’, which includes food security and cash transfers.
The ‘Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan Yojana’ will also include cash transfers to the poor daily wage earner and migrant worker. Besides, Sitharaman also announced a medical insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh per health worker, who along with doctors and nurses are the vanguard of the fight against coronavirus, for three months. They are welcome moves as long as the Government ensures that they are implemented.
A total of 80 crore people will benefit from the food part of the Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan Yojana. Every one under this scheme will get 5 kg of wheat/rice for free. This will be in addition to what they are already getting. One kilo one choice of pulse will also be given to each household for the next three months. They can also opt to take it in two instalments.
Not forgetting the core constituency of farmers, Sitharaman has given a wage increase under the MNREGA scheme, which will benefit 5 crore families. This wage increase will add an additional income of Rs 2,000 in each farm worker’s kitty.
Farmers already receive Rs 6,000 per annum under the PM-KISAN scheme. “We will now be giving the first instalment upfront. Around 8.69 crore farmer will get immediate benefit,” Sitharaman told mediapersons.
Cash transfers under PMGKAY will be through Direct Bank Transfers in eight parts to farmers, MNREGA, widows, poor pensioners, (the) divyang, women under the Jan Dhan Yojana, women and households benefitting under the Ujjwala scheme, self-help groups for women, especially those served under the livelihood mission, organized sector workers under EPFO and construction workers and district mineral funds.
For the benefit of the organized sector employees caught in the COVID-19 storm, the Centre will pay the EPF0 12% contribution of both the employer and of the employee for firms with over 100 employees for the next three months. This is unprecedented, a 24% bonanza for each EPFO beneficiary multiplied by three! Women Jan Dhan account holders have not been left out of the Government largesse. They will to get Rs 500 per month for the next three months. “There are 63 lakh self-help groups for women in the country. They get up to Rs 10 lakh collateral-free loans right now. We are doubling that to Rs 20 lakh,” Sitharaman added. Besides, “Ujjwala scheme women” will be given free LPG cylinders for the next three months. This would benefit 8.3 crore below poverty line families.
While all these are fine and great to listen to, the Modi government will have to walk the talk. It will have to deliver. As of now, migrant workers caught on the left foot with the sudden nationwide lockdown are still trekking to homes in various states, mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, because there are no train or bus services.
How many of these people will be COVID-19 free by the time they reach their destinations is a disquieting thought? In the meantime, the welfare packages announced should reach their families at all cost. Demonetization saw the elderly dying in queues, COVID-19 could see many succumbing to death by starvation and the disease. (IPA Service)