NEW DELHI, March 26 - The government on Thursday announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore stimulus that included free foodgrain and cooking gas to poor for three months, and cash doles to women and poor senior citizens as it looked to ease the economic impact of the nationwide lockdown.
While over 80 crore poor ration card holders will each get 5 kg of wheat or rice, and 1 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 an 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,� Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman 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 to protect the nation�s 130 crore people from the fast-spreading coronavirus. �We do not want anyone to remain hungry,� she added.
The Finance Minister hinted at more announcements if a 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 a 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 five crore workers of about Rs 2,000 in all.
India joins countries � from the US to Singapore � that have pledged spending to contain the economic fallout of the pandemic that has infected almost five lakh people globally and left over 21,000 dead.
While the free foodgrains 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.
Sitharaman, however, evaded a reply to questions on how the government will finance the package given that the impact of the closure of businesses across the country will be felt over the next few months and would have a direct bearing on already strained tax collections.
She also did not say if the government will relax budget deficit targets or resort to additional borrowings to fund the programme.
The revised fiscal deficit � the gap between revenue and expenditure � has been put at 3.8 per cent of the GDP in the current fiscal. For the fiscal starting April, the government is targeting a 3.5 per cent fiscal deficit. � PTI
Rs 50 lakh insurance cover for healthcare workers fighting COVID-19; 22 lakh people to be covered under the scheme
80 crore poor people to get 5 kg wheat or rice and 1 kg of preferred pulses for free every month over the next three months
20 crore women Jan Dhan account holders to get Rs 500 per month for next three months
Increase in MNREGA wage to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182; to benefit 13.62 crore families
An ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 to 3 crore poor senior citizen, poor widows and poor disabled
To front-load Rs 2,000 payment to farmers in first week of April under existing PM Kisan Yojana to benefit 8.7 crore farmers
Free gas cylinders will be provided under PM Ujjwala Yojana to 8 crore poor families for the next three months
PF contribution to be paid for next three months for workers earning below Rs 15,000 per month in units having less than 100 workers
To amend Employees� Provident Fund Regulations to include pandemic as the reason to allow advance of 75 per cent of the total amount or 3 months of the wages.