As the U.S. Congress finalizes a $2 trillion stimulus package to jumpstart an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, India’s finance minister announced a $22.5 billion measure on Thursday (March 26) that would provide food and cash to most of the country’s 1.3 billion people.
“The government is working so that those affected directly, particularly the poor, the migrant workers, the women, and the disadvantaged of society will have been reached out to with tangible help and assistance,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a televised press briefing.
Under the terms of the proposal, Sitharaman said 800 million people would receive 11 pounds of rice and two pounds of lentils, beans and peas per month free or wheat for three months.
“We do not want anyone to be hungry,” she said. “We have come with a package, which will immediately take care of the welfare concerns of poor and suffering workers and those who need immediate help.”
Cash has been reserved for farmers, rural workers, poor pensioners, construction workers, low-income widowers and others, Sitharaman said.
Needy farmers, for example, will receive 2,000 rupees or $26.72, she said. Free cooking gas will be provided to the poor for three months.
The finance minister hailed what she called “front line warriors,” the doctors, medical sanitary workers, nurses, and paramedics who are fighting the coronavirus at great risk to themselves.
These healthcare workers were promised three months’ worth of payments for medical insurance of up to a total of 5 million rupees, or $66,802.
“Some are comparing these workers to gods in white costumes,” Sitharaman said.
The government's cash payments will supplement contributions from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where the needy will receive handouts of 1,000 rupees or $13.36 per month for daily wage earners. In Punjab, officials have promised 3,000 rupees or $40.08 for construction workers in the northern state.
This initiative comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown 36 hours ago to protect people from the fast-spreading coronavirus.
The Indian government reported 719 cases of the virus and 16 deaths while 45 have recovered from the COVID-19 illness caused by the coronavirus.