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₹3,500 crore of second tranche of stimulus to be spent on allocation to those without ration cards

A major focus of the second tranche of the economic stimulus package announced by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday is to provide free foodgrains for the next two months to migrant workers who do not have ration cards. The Centre will spend ₹3,500 crore for this purpose.

Quoting numbers from State governments, Ms. Sitharaman said there were an estimated eight crore migrant workers who had been housed in government- and privately run relief camps across the country since the lockdown.

However, economists said this intervention was too little, too late, and that the free foodgrain provision should have been universalised to deal with widespread distress.

Credit facilities

Apart from measures for migrant workers, the second tranche announced by the government included an extension of credit facilities for urban housing, street vendors and farmers and an interest subvention scheme for small businesses.

The move to provide free foodgrain for migrant workers is an extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, announced on March 27, which provided an additional monthly free rice or wheat allocation of 5 kg per person, and 1 kg of pulse per household from April to June to the 80 crore people with ration cards covered by the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Over the past month, migrant workers and others without ration cards have struggled without access to this free food.

“For those who are non-card holders, meaning they are neither under the NFSA nor are they holders of any State-level cards, they shall be given [this benefit]...And if the person is remaining without card, he can also get it,” Ms. Sitharaman said.

“We are engaging with the State governments to make sure that they know where these migrants are, they can approach them and give them. Because most of these migrants who have no cards are staying in camps run either by the government or by NGOs, and therefore, based on a rough assessment given to us by all the State governments, we think there are about eight crore migrants for whom benefit will reach through this free food grain supply,” she said, adding that this is an initial assessment, and that numbers may change.

The Finance Minister added that by August 2020, the ration card portability scheme will allow 67 crore NFSA beneficiaries in 23 connected States to use their cards at any ration shop anywhere in the country, allowing migrant workers to access subsidised food away from their home villages. The scheme would cover all beneficiaries by March 2021, she said.

3,722 new cases; death toll at 2,549

India recorded another 3,722 COVID-19 cases and 134 deaths on Thursday, pushing the total number of cases to 78,003 and deaths to 2,549, according to the Union Health Ministry. The country has registered an average of over 3500 new cases every day since May 7.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in the last three days, the doubling time had slowed down to 13.9 days, while the doubling time in the past 14 days was 11.1 days.

“The COVID-19 fatality rate of the country currently stands at 3.2% and the recovery rate has further improved. Currently, we are at 33.6% [from 32.83% on Wednesday]. There are 3.0% active COVID-19 patients in ICU, 0.39% on ventilators and 2.7% on oxygen support,’’ he observed.

On Thursday, there were 14 States/Union Territories that had not reported any cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, including Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Gujarat and Jharkhand, he said.

Affordable rental housing for urban poor and credit for middle-class housing part of package announced by Minister

Package deal: Nirmala Sitharaman with Anurag Thakur addressing a press meet on Thursday. Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Centre will help create affordable rental housing for the urban poor and provide relief worth ₹1,500 crore to small businesses through an interest subvention scheme, apart from extending credit for street vendors, farmers, and middle-class housing.

Apart from free food for migrant workers, these are the major highlights of the second tranche of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan stimulus package, announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday.

Affordable housing

Noting that migrant workers and other urban poor face difficulties in finding affordable housing, the Finance Minister said a scheme to build rental housing complexes through public private partnership mode would be launched under the existing Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme. Both public and private agencies will be incentivised to build rental housing on government and private land, while existing government housing will be converted into rental units.

The credit linked subsidy scheme for lower middle class housing under PMAY will also be extended by one year to March 2021, and is likely to benefit 2.2 lakh more families, said Ms. Sitharaman, expressing the hope that this would also create jobs and stimulate demand for the steel, cement and construction industries.

Street vendors who have been hit hard by the lockdown will be given access to easy credit through a ₹5,000 crore scheme, which will offer ₹10,000 loans for initial working capital.

The scheme will be launched within a month and will benefit 50 lakh vendors, said the Finance Minister.

Subvention relief

Small businesses who have taken loans under the MUDRA-Shishu scheme, meant for loans worth ₹50,000 or less, will receive a 2% interest subvention relief for the next year, which will cost the government ₹1,500 crore.

The Centre plans a drive to enrol 2.5 crore farmers who are not yet part of the Kisan Credit Cards scheme, along with fish workers and livestock farmers, and provide them with ₹2 lakh crore worth of concessional credit. NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) will also extend additional refinance support worth ₹30,000 crore to rural banks for crop loans, Ms. Sitharaman said.

“The only fiscal outlay in today’s announcements are the ₹3,500 crore for food grains to migrants and ₹1,500 crore for the MUDRA loanees. So only ₹5,000 crore is actually coming from government coffers, while the rest are credit-based measures,” said Himanshu, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Economic Studies and Planning.

‘Half-hearted’

Terming the government’s approach as “stingy and half-hearted”, he noted that at a time when demand is down, any moves to provide liquidity are not going to help, adding that putting cash in people’s pockets would have been a better approach.

“Banks are parking money with the RBI (Reserve Bank of India), so the problem is not liquidity, but rather the appetite of people to take credit at this time,” he said.

Beijing has teamed up with Islamabad to build a dam there

All quiet: Soldiers along the Line of Control on the Indo-China border in Bumla.AP/File photo

The recent incidents of face-off between the troops of India and China are neither correlated nor have any connection with other global or local activities, Army chief Gen. Manoj Naravane said on Thursday. The statement was supplemented by official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastava who reminded China about India’s claims over Gilgit-Baltistan where China has teamed up with Pakistan to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam.

Mr. Srivastava said both sides understand the importance of maintaining peace. “India and China attach importance to tranquillity and it is essential for the overall development of bilateral ties.”

He reminded China about India’s claims over the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan under Pakistan’s control. “Our position is clear. The entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir is part of India.”

The assertion is important as it was made a day after Power China, one of the biggest Chinese power companies, received a contract to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam which once completed will allow Pakistan to use the waters of the Indus for irrigation. Islamabad claims that the dam will help reduce downstream flood by the Indus.

Plans for new vehicle deferred

Ram Nath Kovind

President Ram Nath Kovind has decided to forgo 30% of his salary for the whole year apart from directing officials to adopt other austerity measures in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a communiqué from the Rashtrapati Bhavan said on Thursday.

The domestic tours of the President will be substantially reduced, guest lists as well as food menu at official ceremonies will be cut, and plans to purchase a new presidential limousine (estimated to cost ₹10 crore) have been deferred.

“The President has given instructions to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to set an example by economising the expenditure, making optimal usage of resources, and dovetailing the saved money to combat COVID-19 and mitigate the people’s economic plight,” said the statement.

“In the President’s estimation, this will be a small but significant contribution to realise the government’s vision of making India self-reliant (atmanirbhar) and energise the nation to take up the challenge to fight the pandemic and continue our journey for development and prosperity simultaneously,” it said.

It is identifying eligible firms for licensed production

A pilot batch of PPE has been produced at the Naval Dockyard Mumbai.

A low-cost personal protective equipment (PPE), designed and produced by the Navy, has received a patent, bringing it a step closer to mass production, the Navy said on Thursday.

The patent was successfully filed by the Intellectual Property Facilitation Cell (IPFC) of the Defence Ministry, in association with the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC), an enterprise under the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Navy said in a statement. “The low-cost PPE has been developed by a doctor posted at the recently created Innovation Cell at the Institute of Naval Medicine (INM), Mumbai. A pilot batch of PPE had been produced at the Naval Dockyard Mumbai,” it stated.

Efforts were on to commence mass production, and eligible firms were being identified for taking up licensed production, the Navy added.

Shortage of PPE for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major issue.

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