The government sought to address the plight of the migrant workers and detailed its plans to assist small farmers and street vendors.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also announced the nationwide usability of the ‘Ration Card’ by August 2020.
Accompanied by MoS Anurag Thakur and officials, Ms. Sitharaman presented ‘nine steps’ in her second briefing on the relief package.
Of the nine steps, three are aimed at easing the hardship of migrant workers, one intended to benefit the recipients of the ‘Shishu’ loans (Mudra), one step to create a special credit program for the street vendors, one step related to housing, another aimed at generating employment for the tribal community, and two steps to support the farmers.
Immediate relief for migrant workers
Admitting a ‘tug at heart’ witnessing the plight of the migrants, the Finance Minister said that their plight was never meant to be.
The urban poor, which includes the migrant workers, could have been sheltered and provided food and water by the state governments throughout the lockdown, she said, adding that roughly 11,000 crore rupees were transferred to the SDRF (State Disaster Response Fund) and the funds could have been used by the states to care for the migrant workers.
Also, the Prime Minister had asked everyone to remain where they were. But when the movements did take place between the states, the ‘Shramik trains’ got to work, and nearly 10 lakh migrants were provided transport, said Ms. Sitharaman.
To alleviate the immediate suffering of the migrant workers, the government will offer food grains for the next two months, even to those who do not hold any ration cards. The distribution of food grains will be coordinated with state governments, and 3,500 crore rupees will be spent over the next two months to ensure the food supply, said the FM.
On this note, Ms. Sitharaman had reforms to reveal, along with more steps for the migrant workers.
One Nation – One Ration Card
From August 2020, the ration card could be used anywhere in India, announced the Finance Minister, terming the reform ‘One Nation – One Ration Card.’
However, only 83 percent implementation will be seen as of August, but 100 percent operationality will be possible by March 2021. All states and UTs will complete the automation by then, she added.
Increase in Minimum Wage and Work Days
The central government seeks to raise the current minimum wage of Rs 182 to Rs 202. Also, given the regional disparity in the minimum wage, only 30 percent of the workers receive the minimum wage, and it needs to be universal, said the Minister, adding that efforts are ongoing in Parliament to make this happen.
Stating that 14.26 crore workdays were generated up until May, Finance Minister Nirmala, said that this is 40-50 percent more than what was available last year in May. About 2.33 crore wage seekers in 1.87 lakh Gram Panchayats are enrolled in MGNREGA, and States and UTs are advised to provide work under MGNREGA, said the FM, adding that Rs 10,000 crores have been allocated for this so far.
Housing for migrants
‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’ will include a rental housing scheme for the Migrant Labour, and for this, the government will either ruse the housing being constructed or incentivise construction companies to build such houses.
Migrant workers and Healthcare
Proposing annual health check-ups, FM revealed the government’s intention to extend the scope of ESIC (Employees State Insurance Corporation) for all establishments, to even those which employ ten or more, but in notified districts.
Employees are working in hazardous activities, and the government wants to ensure that they get the ESIC coverage, while the Occupational safety code would be brought in.
Social security benefits could be extended to Gig workers and Platform workers while the reskilling of the retrenched workers is also in the pipeline.
Self-Help Groups contributed during the COVID-19 crisis.
The SHGs have contributed, not just benefited; they produced three crore masks and 1.2 lakh litres of sanitiser, and 7,200 Self-help groups were newly formed for the urban poor, since March 15, during the ‘critical time,’ said Ms. Sitharaman.
PAiSA, (Portal for Affordable Credit and Interest Subvention Access), the portal where the interest subvention of loans is transferred via DBT, will be implemented across the country.
Loans for the Street Vendors
The government plans to bring in the scheme by the end of this month, so the street vendors can avail themselves of loans. The program is funded with 5,000 crore rupees and is likely to benefit up to 50 lakh street vendors.
What’s in the package for the Farmers?
An emergency working capital fund of Rs 33,000 crores will be made available through NABARD, additional to the 90,000 crores that it offers through the year.
The government intended to benefit the farmers, particularly the small farmers, said the FM.
Although the Rabi harvest is nearly over, whether it be for post-harvest work or preparations for Kharif crop or any such requirements, this money will assist the small and marginal farmers.
More Kisan Credit Cards
Two lakh crores of concessional credit are being offered to boost the farming activities, and 2.5 crore farmers could benefit from it.
Given that there are nine crore beneficiaries of ‘PM Kisan Samman Nidhi,’ taking out the number of those who do not have the Kisan Credit Cards, gave the estimate of 2.5 crore potential beneficiaries, said Finance Minister Nirmala.
Those from Fisheries and Animal husbandry will also be included in Kisan Credit Cards.
About ‘Shishu’ Loans (Mudra)
The Shishu Loans offered under Mudra (Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency), which offer credit up to Rs 50,000, will have the interest incentivised by 2 percent.
Those who are above the poverty line but are within the range of 6 – 18 lakhs annual income can avail of a credit-linked subsidy scheme that was introduced in 2017.
CLSS (PMAY), set to have expired by March 31, 2020, is now extended by one year. Nearly 2.5 lakh people expected to benefit directly, while the construction activity would increase the demand for materials and workforce.
Employment for the Tribals
CAMPA funds will get an additional boost, said the FM, adding that proposals worth Rs 6,000 crores have now been received and this boost is intended to generate employment opportunities for the tribals, in afforestation and plantation, forest-related infrastructure activities and wildlife protection, etc. The program could be extended to semi-urban areas if the states so decide.
And that is the second briefing by the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, MoS Anurag Thakur in the ongoing roll-out of the coronavirus relief package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi