Responding to the concern over the fate of the weaker sctions during the 21-day lockdown to check the spread of COVID-19, the Narendra Modi-led government on Thursday announced a Rs 170,000 crore relief package for the vulnerable sections of the society.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced these measures under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana and said that it will benefit migrant workers, rural poor and the women.
Sitharaman also hinted that it may not be the final relief package. Responding to a question, she clarified that the current package is only for the “poorest of the poor” and the weaker sections of the society.
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On the relief scheme, Sitharaman said it will work via direct cash transfer, as one set of measures, while another set will include food security-related measures.
“We do not want anyone to remain hungry, so we will be giving enough to take care of their foodgrain requirements, protein requirement in terms of pulses,” she said.
“On the other hand, they should also not remain without money in hand. So several measures through DBT are being taken so that money reaches them so that they can have money in their hands.”
In a step by step announcement, the FM said that the Centre will provide Rs 50 lakh worth medical insurance per person for medical industry workers such as sanitation and Asha workers, paramedics, nurses and doctors who are putting themselves at risk by treating Covid-19 patients.
On the food package component of the scheme, the minister said 80 crore beneficiaries will receive an additional 5 kg of rice or wheat-free of cost for three months in addition to 1 kg of pulses per household.
“So, five kg (rice or wheat) per person will be provided to all ration card holders per month for the next three months free of charge. This will be over and above what they get under existing schemes. Also, each household will also be provided free 1kg pulses per month for the next three months,” she said.
Under the cash transfer part, the minister said that it will largely be based on DBT through which farmers, migrant workers, widows, pensioners amongst others will be provided relief.
For farmers, the first instalment of the Rs 6,000 per year given under PM Kisan Yojana will be given at the beginning of the year itself. So Rs 2,000 will be provided into the accounts of farmers, a move that will immediately benefit 8.69 crore farmers.
The MNREGA wages have also been increased from present Rs 182 per day to Rs 202. “As a result, we expect Rs 20 per worker will be the additional income that will benefit 5 crore families,” the minister said.
Sitharaman also decided to provide cash into the account of 3 crore senior citizens to help them cope with the current crisis. Accordingly, a one-time amount of Rs 1,000 will be provided in two instalments into their account.
Also, Ujjawala cooking gas connection holders, over 8 crore women now, will get free LPG cylinders for the next three months. The 63 lakh women Self-help groups (SHGs), that benefits seven crore households, will be provided collateral-free loans, under the Deen Dayal National Rural livelihood mission, of Rs 20 lakh – double the existing amount of Rs 10 lakh.
In yet another relief measure, the Finance Minister announced that the government would bear the entire 24 per cent EPF contribution of employer and employees for the next three months. This support will be for employees of establishments that employ upto 100 employees and wages of 90 per cent of their employees is less than Rs 15,000 per month.
For the organised sector, EPFO regulation will be amended so that workers can draw up to 75 per cent of their contingency expenditure non-refundable advance or three months of wages in advance whichever is less.
Moreover, about 3.5 crore registered building and construction workers would be provided assistance and support from the Rs 31,000 crore welfare funds.
“We will be giving directions to the state governments to ensure that the fund can be utilised for helping those who are facing economic disruption as a result of this particular lockdown,” the FM said.
The Centre has also requested the state governments to utilise the funds which are available under the district mineral fund for supplementing and augmenting all kinds of medical testing activities, screening activities, and also other requirements, which are so necessary now to fight the coronavirus and from preventing its spread.
Essential services shops in Delhi can open 24/7: LG Anil Baijal
Delhi Lt. Governor Anil Baijal on Thursday said the core committee on coronavirus has decided to encourage the grocery and essential supplies stores to operate 24 hours all through the week, and also there will be no restriction on e-commerce companies.
Speaking to the media, he said the Sub Divisional Magistrates (SDMs) have been asked to ensure that essential items shops are opened and also that there are enough stocks in them.
“As a special measure, grocery and essential supplies stores to be allowed to operate 24 by 7. This will help in staggering customer visits and help in maintaining social distancing norms. All those who wish to open 24 by 7 will be encouraged,” the LG said.
This will help in avoiding mass gatherings.
Baijal said this will not be forced upon the shop owner, but anyone who wishes to do it is most welcome.
Biajal aso said that it has been decided to allow food home delivery services.
“There will be no restriction on e-commerce companies.”
Baijal said all police officers and district in-charges have been asked to ensure that all shops and stores dealing in essential items are fully-stocked.
Baijal also asked the District Magistrates (DM) in the city to ensure social distancing is maintained at the dispensing points, monitor functioning of helplines and compliance of home quarantine.
“DMs to coordinate provision of food for the homeless and destitute.”
Baijal interacted on video conference with the DMs and DCPs.
Govt bans export of anti-malarial drug hydroxycloroquine
Amid coronavirus outbreak, the government on Wednesday banned export of anti-malarial drug hydroxycloroquine with immediate effect to ensure sufficient availability of the medicine in the domestic market.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Balram Bhargava had on Monday recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for treating healthcare workers handling suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases and also the asymptomatic household contacts of the lab-confirmed cases.
The treatment protocol recommended by the ICMR-constituted National Task Force for COVID-19 has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) for restricted use in emergency situations.
In a notification issued on Wednesday, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), an arm of the commerce ministry which deals with export and import-related matters, said, “The export of hydroxycloroquine and formulations made from hydroxycloroquine is prohibited with immediate effect”.
It, however, said the government will allow export of the medicine on humanitarian grounds on case-to-case basis on the Ministry of External Affairs’ recommendation.
Export will also be permitted from the special economic zones/export oriented units and in cases where the outbound shipment is made to fulfil export obligation under any advance authorisation license issued on or before the date of this notification, which is March 25, 2020.
“Export will be allowed in case of shipments where irrevocable letter of credit has been issued before the date of this notification or in case where full advance payment has been received by the exporter in India against specific shipment, subject to submission of documentary evidence,” DGFT added.
According to some reports, demand for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, a related compound, have jumped after US President Donald Trump said that these salts were effective in treating COVID-19. People are panic buying this medicine.
Over the last few weeks, India has banned exports of host of medical devices, including sanitisers, all types of ventilators and surgical masks.
The government on Tuesday banned export of all sanitisers and ventilators with immediate effect in wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Export of all sanitisers…is prohibited, with immediate effect,” the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) said in a notification.
It also banned exports of all types of ventilators, including any artificial respiratory apparatus or oxygen therapy apparatus or any other breathing appliance or device.
Last week, it had banned export of certain ventilators, surgical and disposable masks and textile raw material used for making masks.
There is a shortage of hand sanitisers and face masks in the market amid the coronavirus outbreak as people resorted to panic buying.