Government unveils Rs 1.7 lakh cr package

Over 80 crore ration card holders will each get 5 kg of wheat or rice and one kg of preferred pulses free of cost every month for the next three months to ensure that poor are not hungry because of the close down of businesses.

Poor women, who got free cooking gas under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana during the last three years, will get free LPG refills in the next three months to tide over tight finance following the nationwide lockdown, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, adding this will benefit 8.3 crore women.

Besides, 20.5 crore women Jan Dhan Account holders will get Rs 500 per month for the next three months, while poor senior citizens, widows and disabled will get a one-time cash dole of Rs 1,000.

For workers, the daily wage under the MNREGA has been increased to Rs 202 from Rs 182, benefiting 5 crore workers who stand to gain about Rs 2,000 in all.

Also, the government will front-load Rs 2,000 payments to farmers in the first week of April under the existing PM Kishan Yojana to benefit 8.69 crore farmers.

S Ranganathan, Head of Research at LKP Securities said, "The Rs 1.7 lakh crore package announced today prevents any possible retrenchment of workers as GOI is contributing the full 24% to the PF authorities and by stepping in with foodgrains prevents any kind of hoarding by middlemen. The DBT route ensures that the amount quickly reaches the people who need it the most."

With businesses closed during the lockdown, the government will contribute employees as well as employer's contribution to the provident fund for the next three months of companies with up to 100 employees with 90 per cent earning not more than Rs 15,000. The contribution will be a total of 24 per cent of eligible wages.

Also, workers will be allowed to draw a non-refundable advance of 75 per cent from credit in provident fund account or three months salary, whichever is lower, she said.

Sitharaman said the limit of collateral-free loans to 63 lakh women self-held groups is being doubled to Rs 20 lakh, impacting 7 crore households.

The free foodgrain and pulses are over-and-above the existing entitlement through the public distribution system (PDS). The ration card holders can take the foodgrain and pulses from the PDS in two installments, she added.

"This measure will ensure no gareeb (poor) remains hungry," Sitharaman said.

According to official data, the government has a total of 58.49 million tonnes of foodgrain in the FCI godowns so far. Out of which, rice is 30.97 million tonne and wheat 27.52 million tonne.

The foodgrain stock is much higher than the required norm of maintaining a reserve of about 21 million tonnes as on April 1.

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