If micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) were the thrust of the nearly Rs 6 lakh crore package on Wednesday, the measures unveiled by Sitharaman on Thursday were aimed at addressing the problems of migrants. Ratings agency CARE said Thursday’s package could see an outflow of up to Rs 3.2 lakh crore, although the impact on the budget may be only Rs 5,000 crore.
Moving to address the problem the poor have faced in accessing foodgrains in the wake of the pandemic, the Centre announced free grains and a kilo of chana dal for these families for the next two months. Sitharaman said the Modi administration would bear the Rs 3,500-crore cost of distributing eight lakh tonnes of wheat and rice and 50,000 tonnes of chana dal.
The “one nation, one ration card” scheme will use Aadhaar to allow those entitled to access the public distribution system to draw their quota from anywhere in the country. Sitharaman said the facility should be operational by next March
Relief expected to blunt charge of insensitivity
Though this milestone, universally described as a big step towards food security, will be reached a few months later than originally scheduled, the FM said the government hoped to cover 83% of beneficiaries — a number equal to 67% of the population — by August 1. Another big announcement was the decision to launch affordable rental housing complexes or workers’ hostels, meant to provide social security to the urban poor and students, on a PPP basis.
The measures come against the backdrop of the movement of millions of workers from large industrial hubs such as Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat to the less affluent states they come from — an exodus which has come to define the misery wrought by the coronavirus.
The relief announced on Thursday is expected to blunt the charge of insensitivity, and consolidate PM Modi’s constituency among the poor who played a big role in his two LS poll victories.
One nation, one ration card and affordable rental housing for migrants, in particular, are seen as projects whose benefits will far outlive the depredations of the virus. Unlike PDS portability, the immediate impetus for the scheme for residential complexes for migrants came from their harassment by landlords and the problem their departure from industrial hubs might cause for the objective of early resumption of economic normalcy.
The packages, crafted through extensive consultations, have seen the Centre being criticised for piggybacking on banks and financial institutions instead of using its own budgetary resources. The government, however, is trying to balance the need to provide succour to vulnerable sections with the imperative to maintain control over the fiscal situation: a duel which is also expected to result in a denial of tax concessions to the corporate sector.