Unveiling relief measures to deal with the impact of the countrywide lockdown due to coronavirus, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore package under Garib Kalyan Yojana that would largely benefit unorganised sector workers, especially daily wage workers, and urban and rural poor.
The relief measures were announced a day after the country went into a 21-day lockdown to break the chain of transmission of coronavirus, which has so far infected more than 600 people and led to 13 deaths.
“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,” Nirmala Sitharaman, who is heading the COVID-19 task force, said at a press conference.
Sitharaman said 80 crore poor or two-third of population would get 5 kg rice or wheat free for the next three months. This will be over and above the 5 kg they already get. Additionally, they will also get 1 kg of preferred pulse.
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.
Sitharaman also announced Rs 50 lakh per person as medical insurance for paramedics, ASHA workers and doctors.
“There will be Rs 50 lakh insurance per health care worker as a medical insurance cover for three months. Hopefully, we would be able to contain the virus in this period,” Sitharaman, flanked by MoS (Finance) Anurag Thakur, said.
Ahead of Sitharaman’s press conference, the Sensex jumped 1500 points or over 5 per cent to cross the 30,000 mark. The rupee also rose 64 paisa against the dollar to settle at 75.24.
Sops for farmers, senior citizens, women
The Finance Minister also said 8.69 crore farmers would be given Rs 2,000 immediately through direct cash transfer under the existing PM Kisaan Yojana. “Installment of Rs 2000 in the first week of April will be transferred,” she said.
An ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 in two installments over three months would be given to poor senior citizens over 60 years, widows and the disabled. “This will benefit 3 crore poor senior citizens, widows and disabled,” she said.
Moreover, 20 crore women Jan Dhan Account holders will get Rs 500 per month for next three months to help them run their households. Besides, the government also doubled collateral-free loans to Rs 20 lakh for 63 lakh women self-help groups. The move will benefit 7 crore households.
The Finance Minister also announced increase in MNREGA wage to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182, benefiting 5 crore families. “This will result in Rs 2,000 additional income per worker”, Sitharaman said.
In a move that will benefit 8.3 crore BPL families, Ujjwala beneficiaries would get free cooking gas (LPG) cylinders in next three months, the Finance Minister said.
For the organised sector, Sitharaman said EPF contribution of both employer and employee (12 per cent each) would be paid by the government for the next three months. “This will be for all those establishments with up to 100 employees and 90 per cent of whom earning less than Rs 15,000 a month. About 4.8 crore EPF members will benefit from this,” Sitharaman said.
“The government will amend the regulation of EPF due to this pandemic so that workers can draw upto 75 per cent non-refundable advance from credit in PF account or three months salary, whichever is lower,” the Finance Minister said.
In a move aimed at benefiting 3.5 crore registered construction workers, Sitharaman said the Centre had directed the state governments to use a Rs 31,000 crore fund corpus to support them. Sitharaman also said states had been asked to use the District Mineral Fund for supplementing and augmenting medical testing and screening of coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Sitharaman had announced a series of regulatory and compliance related relaxations for taxpayers, MSMEs, company directors and bank customers.
In a significant relief for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, the Finance Ministry raised the threshold default by 100 times for companies being taken to Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) to Rs 1 crore from Rs 1 lakh now.
The government extended deadlines for income tax and Goods and Services Tax (GST). The deadline for filing monthly GST summary returns due in March, April and May was extended till June 30 with no interest, penalty and late fee for those with turnover below Rs 5 crore, and a reduced 9 per cent interest on taxpayers above Rs 5 crore turnover threshold from current 18 per cent.
The deadline for filing I-returns for financial year 2018-19 and that Aadhaar-PAN linking has also been extended to June 30 from March 31.
On the consumer banking side, the government provided relaxation to debit cardholders to withdraw money from any bank’s ATM without paying extra charges for next three months, while fee for maintaining minimum balance in bank accounts have also been waived for this period.
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