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India lockdown: Nirmala Sitharaman announces food subsidy for 80 crore poor

FM Nirmala Sitharaman said the subsidies will be rolled out under the Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana scheme, where 80 crore poor (two-third of population) will get 5 kg rice or wheat free for the next three months over and above the 5 kg they already get, along with 1 kg of preferred pulse.

By: ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: March 26, 2020 4:20:40 pm
Foods packet being distributed by Kachhi Visha Oswal Jain Seva, Kurla with support of local corporater Captain Malik for Police, BMC and Hospital staff in Mumbai. (Express photos by Prashant Nadkar)

In a major relief to the underprivileged during the 21-day nationwide lockdown, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Thursday announced a special food subsidy covering 80 crore people for the next three months. Sitharaman announced the package on the second day of the lockdown imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Addressing the media, Sitharaman said the subsidies will be rolled out under the Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana scheme, where 80 crore poor or two-third of the population will get 5 kg rice or wheat free for the next three months over and above the 5 kg they already get, plus 1 kg of preferred pulse. The free delivery of food will cost the government Rs 40,000 crore.

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“We have immediately responded within 36 hours of the lockdown,” Sitharaman said, adding that the government has reached out to those people who immediately require support – the “poorest of the poor”. She said the government’s aim was to reach food and other facilities to the poor and provide income support to people who need it the most. This will enable them come out of the disruption caused by the lockdown enforced to battle coronavirus, she said.

Apart from free wheat and rice, the government will provide one kg of pulses like moong, toor, chana, urad per family for next three months. People can take pulses of their choice for the next three months free of cost. The government will be spending a total of Rs 5000 crore for this purpose. Income transfer to the farmers and provision of free wheat, rice and pulse will in aggregate cost the government Rs 61,000 crore.

“Government of India would not allow anybody, specially any poor family, to suffer on account of non-availability of food grains due to disruption in the next three months,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

The finance minister also announced a Rs 1.7 lakh package for the poor who need immediate help like migrant workers and urban and rural poor. “A package is ready for the poor who need immediate help like migrant workers and urban and rural poor. No one will go hungry. The package is worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore,” she said.

Read | What did FM Sitharaman announce for frontline healthcare workers?

Sitharaman said the government will transfer Rs 500 per month directly into the accounts of 20 crore women Jan Dhan Account holders for the next three months. She also announced the increase in MNREGA wage to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182 to benefit 5 crore families.

Ujjwala beneficiaries will also get free cooking gas (LPG) cylinders in next three months, which will benefit 8.3 crore BPL families, she said.

21-day lockdown: Is India prepared to meet the supply requirements of foodstuffs?

The ration card holders can take the food grains and pulses from the Public Distribution System (PDS) in two installments, she added. “This measure will ensure no gareeb (poor) remains hungry,” Sitharaman said.

According to official data, the government has total 58.49 million tonnes of food grains in the Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns so far. Out of which, rice is 30.97 million tonnes and wheat 27.52 million tonne, PTI reported.

The announcement for special package comes after the total confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country shot up to 649 with 13 deaths.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: Are smokers at high risk form coronavirus? | Can Vitamin-C prevent or cure coronavirus infection? | What exactly is community spread of coronavirus? | How long can the Covid-19 virus survive on a surface? | Amid the lockdown, what is allowed, what is prohibited?

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