FM Nirmala Sitharaman
FM Nirmala Sitharaman
Photo by PTI

Mumbai: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled on Thursday a grand Rs 1.70 lakh crore economic stimulus package titled the ‘Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana’ to help the poor and migrants tackle the financial difficulties arising because of the national lockdown.

"No one will go hungry", she declared and added that the immediate focus is on alleviating the hardships of the migrant workers and the urban and the rural poor.

The scheme will work through cash transfers and lays special thrust on providing food security to the poor and the women. Eighty crore people will benefit under the scheme, said Sitharaman.

Pointing out that the government has lost no time in declaring the relief package, which has come within 36 hours of the 3-week lockdown, she said no one will go hungry as 80 crore people will be fed for three months from the PM Ann Yojana.

Besides, all ration card holders will get free five kilo wheat or rice per head in addition to their entitlement, as also one kilo of pulses per card free of cost, for three months. She said the government's top priority was to reach out to neediest in its war against hunger and all schemes come into effect "immediately."

The relief measures include direct cash transfers (under the DBT or the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme). "8.69 crore farmers will immediately benefit through direct cash transfers under the Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme.

Instalment of Rs 2,000 will be transferred in the first week of April to their accounts," Sitharaman said. Wages under MNREGA will also be increased by Rs 2000 per worker on an average, as additional income to help daily wage labourers. ‘‘The government has increased wages under the MNREGA scheme from the existing Rs 182 to Rs 202,’’ she said.

The FM also announced a medical insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh per person for three months for those on the frontline of the fight against the deadly coronavirus outbreak, including doctors, nurses and sanitation workers.

This is expected to benefit 20 lakh health workers. Sitharaman said women holding bank accounts under the financial inclusion scheme Jan Dhan will get an ex gratia amount of Rs 500 per month for 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,” she said.

The Centre will also contribute 24 per cent towards EPF for firms with up to 100 employees in which 90 per cent employees earn less than Rs 15,000 per month. The Centre will pay the EPF contribution, both of the employer and of the employee, for the next three months, said Sitharaman.

Further, the state governments will be directed under Buildings and Other Construction Workers’ Fund to utilise an existing Rs 31,000 crore welfare fund for benefit of 3.5 crore construction workers. Under the Ujjwala scheme, women will be given free LPG cylinders for the next three months, which will benefit 8.3 crore families living below the poverty line.

The government objective is to ensure that for the next three months there is enough money in the hands of the needy, so that they can escape misery inflicted by the steps to fight the corona virus outbreak.

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