Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thurday, March 26, 2020, has announced a relief package for the urban and rural poor in the backdrop of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak in India. With an emphasis on a promise that no one will go hungry, the finance minister said that a package worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore is ready for the urban and rural poor who need immediate help, including migrant workers, in addition to a Rs 50 lakh medical insurance cover for health care workers for three months.

Under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Ann Yojana, about 80 crore people, about 2/3rds of the Indian population, will be provided 5 kg rice and wheat per person. Arrangements are also made to provide additional 5 kg rice and wheat along with 1 kg pulse.

A provision of direct bank transfers has also been made for the immediate relief of 8.69 crore farmers, who will receive the first instalment of Rs 2000 in the first week of April. There will also be an increase of Rs 2000 per worker on an average as additional income under MGNREGA.

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About 3 crore people, who come under the category of old age, divyang and pensioners, will be given an additional one-time amount of Rs 1000 in two instalments over 3 months through DBT, thereby eliminating middlemen. The provision of DBT will also be extended to poor widows, Jan Dhan Yojna accounts, Ujjwala scheme, self-help groups of women dealing with DDU livelihood missions, EPFO organised workers, construction workers and district mineral workers.

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The collateral-free loans of Self Help Women Groups, which covers around 7 crore households, has been doubled to Rs 20 lakh to increase money they receive in-hand. About 8.3 crore families under below poverty line, covered under Ujjwala scheme, will be provided with cylinders for 3 months free of cost so that there is no short of cooking medium. 20 crore Jan Dhan Women account holders will also be provided with an amount of Rs 500 per month for the next three months.

The finance minister also announced that the government has decided to pay Employees Provident Fund (EPF) of both employer and employee of establishments with upto 100 employees and earnings of less than Rs 15, 000. This decision will benefit about 4.8 crore workers. State governments have also directed to use the funds allocated to them (Rs 31,000 crore) to provide relief to 3.5 crore-registered construction workers. They have also been requested to use these funds in the facilitation of medical testing, screening and providing health attention.

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