The Indian government has announced a relief package worth $22.6 billion to assist those most affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown.
“It’s only been 36 hours since the lockdown was imposed,” the country’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a news conference on Thursday. "Now we have come up with a package which will immediately take care of the welfare concerns of the poor and suffering workers and those who need immediate help."
The relief package includes medical insurance cover of $66,400 per person to those working on the frontlines, such as medical workers, sanitation workers and community health workers. This measure will cover around 2 million people.
The government will provide 800 million people -- nearly two-thirds of the country’s population -- with 5 kilograms of rice or wheat each month for the next three months for free. “We do not want anyone to go hungry,” Sitharaman said.
Other measures announced include fast-tracking subsidies and benefits for farmers, construction workers, widows and the disabled as well as increasing the minimum wage.
The 87 million farmers who currently receive $80 a year will be given the first instalment for the next financial year immediately, in the first week of April.
Workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) -- which guarantees 100 days of unskilled manual work per year -- will have their wages increased by $26.
Senior citizens, widows and the disabled will get a one-time $13 payment over the next three months in two instalments, benefiting 30 million people.
The 200 million female Jan Dhan (government’s direct benefits transfer scheme) account-holders will get a one-time amount of $6.60 each per month for the next three months.
Women on the Ujjwala (government gas subsidy scheme) will be given free cylinders for three months. This will benefit 83 million families living below the poverty line.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown starting at midnight Wednesday. Only essential services are operational across the country’s 36 states and territories. These include water, electricity, health services, fire services, groceries and municipal services.