‘No one will go hungry’ | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 27, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:00 AM, March 27, 2020

‘No one will go hungry’

India outlines $23b economic stimulus to help poor as cases tick up despite immense lockdown

  • Relief to poor includes free distribution of grains, cash handovers

  • Announces $66,000 insurance for every frontline health workers

  • 38 million people risks losing job

 

India yesterday announced a 1.7-trillion-rupee ($22.6-billion) economic stimulus plan providing direct cash transfers and food security measures to give relief to millions of poor people hit by a nationwide lockdown over a coronavirus pandemic.

People queued in some cities for essential items, with trucks stranded at state borders and public transport suspended two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the 21-day lockdown to protect a population of 1.3 billion.

"The government is working for those who are directly affected like migrants, labours, women etc. We are now announcing a package for poor and those who need immediate help. No one will go hungry," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told a news briefing.

Police have enforced the lockdown strictly, even though Modi said essential services would be maintained. India has recorded 649 virus infections and 13 deaths.

The government aims to distribute 5 kilograms of staple foodgrains wheat or rice for each person free of cost, with a kilogram of pulses for every low-income family, helping to feed about 800 million poor people over the next three months.

It also aims to hand out free cooking gas cylinders to 83 million poor families, in addition to direct cash transfers to some 200 million women and the elderly, over a similar period.

Under the scheme, 30 million poor senior citizens, poor widows and poor disabled will get an ex-gratia of Rs 1,000. Some 20 crore women would get Rs 500 per month for next three months to help them run their households.

The finance minister also announced increase in the daily wage for rural workers to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182, a move which is aimed at benefitting five crore families.

The government outlined plans for medical insurance cover of 5 million rupees ($66,000) for every frontline health worker, from doctors, nurses and paramedics to those involved in sanitary services.

India's public health network, notoriously starved of resources, suffers an acute shortage of staff, so that sick people may often receive only hurried medical checks.

Among other financial relief, the government plans to release funds for the Employees' Provident Fund in some small firms in a measure aimed at covering 48 million workers.

The economic stimulus plan comes as a report said that the coronavirus impact could hit hard the tourism sector in India and render 3.8 crore people jobless, reports our New Delhi correspondent.

The Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism And Hospitality (FAITH) also said there should be a support fund for twelve months to support basic salaries with "direct transfer" to the affected tourism employees.

It is believed that around 70 per cent out of a total 5.5 crore workforce could get unemployed.

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