The Centre on Thursday announced that about eight crore migrant workers, irrespective of whether they have ration cards, will get free foodgrains for the next two months. It has also planned to introduce an affordable housing scheme for urban poor and migrant workers.

The announcements, made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, were part of the second tranche of the Centre’s economic rescue package of Rs 20 lakh crore in fiscal and monetary measures to support an economy battered by a seven week-long lockdown to fight the coronavirus. It focussed on migrant workers, street vendors, small traders, self-employed people and small farmers.

Free foodgrains will be distributed even to those people who do not currently fall under the Food Security Act, the minister said. “Free food grains supply to all migrants for the next 2 months – for non-card holders, they shall be given 5 kg wheat or rice per person and 1 kg chana per family per month for the next two months,” Sitharaman said, adding that the states will distribute it but the Centre will bear the expenses of Rs 3,500 crore.

A “one nation, one ration card” scheme will also be implemented by March 2021 to help migrant families access food in other states by making PDS ration cards portable, she said. “The scheme will enable a migrant beneficiary to access a Public Distribution System from any Fair Price Shop in the country,” Sitharaman said.

The initiative will cover 67 crore beneficiaries in 23 states by August and the rest by March 2021, she added.

Affordable housing

Under the PM Awas Yojana, the government plans to launch an affordable rental housing scheme, Sitharaman added.

The government will launch this scheme by converting government funded housing in cities into affordable rental housing complexes under a private-public partnership model, and by incentivising manufacturing units, industries, institutions and associations, as well as government agencies to develop affordable rental housing complexes on their land.

The government has extended the affordable housing credit scheme for the middle income group till March 31, Sitharaman added. The scheme for those who have an annual income between Rs 6 lakh to Rs 18 lakh, was started in 2017. “About 3,30,000 families have benefitted from this scheme,” Sitharaman said. “Another 2,50,000 more people are likely to benefit from it.”

This will lead to investment of more than Rs 70,000 crore in housing and create jobs as well as create demand for steel, cement, transport and other construction material, she said.

Street vendors

The government also plans to support nearly 50 lakh street vendors, who have been adversely impacted by the lockdown, with a special credit facility of Rs 5,000 crore. The government will launch a scheme within a month to facilitate easy access to credit to street vendors, she said, adding that the initial working capital will be up to Rs 10,000.

Other announcements

The Centre will provide interest subvention of 2% for prompt Mudra-Shishu Loans payees for a period of 12 months, the finance minister said, adding that Rs 1,62,000 crore has been given out under this type of loan so far. “Over 1.30 million people will benefit from this scheme,” she said.

The Centre will also immediately release Rs 30,000 crore additional emergency working capital for farmers fund through National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, Sitharaman said. “About 3 crore farmers – mostly small and marginal farmers –will benefit from this,” she added.

The package

In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said the package was equivalent to 10% of India’s gross domestic product, and was aimed at the multitudes of workers and the businesses who were left economically devastated because of the prolonged shutdown. Modi had said that the economic package, advanced for the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan or self-reliant India scheme, will make India self-sufficient.

On Wednesday, Sitharaman gave some details of the economic relief plan , stressing on a slew of measures to help micro, small and medium enterprises.“Beginning today, for the next few days, I shall be coming out with the entire details [of the package] before you,” she had said. “We shall not forget that we do have a responsibility towards the poor, needy, the migrants workers, divyang [disabled] and the aged of the country.”

The government changed the definition of micro, small and medium enterprises and said it will take six major steps to help them. The Centre also reduced the Employee Provident Fund contribution for private employers by 2% for three months and said it will increase take-home salaries. It announced that only Indian companies will be allowed in government tenders up to Rs 200 crore. The finance ministry also extended the due date for filing Income Tax returns to November 30, among other measures.

The coronavirus pandemic and weeks of lockdown have severely damaged India’s economy. In March, the government had announced a stimulus package worth Rs 1.70 lakh crore for the poor and vulnerable sections of the society. India’s has so far recorded 78,003 cases and 2,549 deaths due to the coronavirus.