The measures were part of a second tranche of announcements of the Atma Nirbhar Bharat scheme made on Thursday.

Govt announces One Nation One Ration Card for all migrant workers
Money Financial package Thursday, May 14, 2020 - 18:36

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced the One Nation, One Ration card as part of the second tranche of announcements of the Rs 20 lakh crore Atma Nirbhar Bharat scheme.

The One Nation, One Ration Card will be implemented and by August 2020, 67 crore beneficiaries in 23 states, which is 83% of all PDS (public distribution system) population will be covered by this. “We assure 100% coverage of national portability of these cards by March 2021. All states/UT’s will complete full automation,” the FM said. The initiative would seek to make existing ration cards portable, rather than issuing new cards altogether. This means people can receive rations from any PDS store in the country using their current cards.

The One Nation, One Ration card scheme was originally announced in June last year, under which eligible beneficiaries would be able to avail their entitled food grains under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) from any fair-price shop in the country. So far, 17 states have been integrated with the scheme.

Last year, the Centre designed a standard format for all ration cards and asked state governments to follow that pattern while issuing fresh ration cards. However, the government clarified in February 2020 that old ration cards will continue to remain valid throughout the nation.

The second tranche covered migrant workers, street vendors, small traders, self-employed people, and small farmers.

In all, nine steps were announced, three regarding migrant workers, one for street vendors, one on housing, one for employment for tribals and those living in tribal areas and two for farmers.

Recapping the measures taken for migrant workers in the past two months, the Finance Minister said the government has approved the use of State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) for the purpose of migrant shelters. About Rs 11,002 crore was released by the Centre for the same.

The Finance Minister said that the central government is offering three hygienically-prepared meals a day and that 7,200 new self-help groups have been formed for the poor from March 15, she added.

Migrant workers

The Finance Minister announced free-food grain supply for all migrant workers for the next two months. The FM said that for non-card holders and those not covered under the National Food Security Act, 5 kg wheat/rice per person and 1 kg chana per family will be given.

The cost will be fully borne by the central government and Rs 3,500 crore will be spent on this, the FM said. This is expected to benefit eight crore workers. State governments will be responsible for the identification of migrants, distribution and implementation of the program and will provide details.

This is in addition to those who were getting their regular quota under PDS where the government had added three installments of 5kgs wheat/rice per individual and 1kg of pulses.

While the government has extended this scheme, it must be noted that there have been various complaints about the quality of food provided. In some cases, people have received rotting grains as well, including a recent case in Dakshina Kannada, Karnataka.

While announcing the One nation One ration card, the FM also added that the government is  coming up with a national portability system where PDS/ration cards can be used in any part of the country.

The Finance Minister said that the government will soon launch a program affordable rental accommodation for migrant workers/urban poor under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) initiative.

The government is incentivising manufacturing units, industries, institutions and associations to build and develop affordable rental complexes on their private land. “We are also converting government-funded houses that are vacant into affordable rental complexes. This will be done through PPP mode, through concessionaire agreements,” FM added.

State and central government agencies will also be incentivised on similar lines.

Speaking of MGNREGA support to migrant workers, the minister said 14.62 crore person-days of work have already been generated till May 13 and 40-50% more people enrolled than what it was before. “We are making provision to ensure that they get enrolled, the minister added. Work was offered to 2.33 crore wage seekers in 1.87 lakh gram panchayats. States and Union Territories have been advised to provide work, the minister said, adding that the government is planning to continue MGNREGA work in the monsoon,” FM added.

Annual actual expenditure till date is around Rs 10,000 crore and the FM said that the government is making provisions for more, if required.

Street vendors

Street vendors will get a special credit facility of Rs 5,000 crore. This will be launched within a month, which will facilitate easy access to credit and is estimated to benefit 50 lakh vendors. Initial working capital of up to Rs 10,000 will be offered to street vendors.

The FM said that digital payments will also be incentivised by monetary rewards and they could get increased working capital, the minister said.

Housing

The government announced measures for the lowest strata of the middle-income group who earn an annual income of Rs 6-18 lakh. It has extended the existing credit-linked subsidy scheme operationalised in 2017 up to March 2021. Earlier, it was only up to March 31, 2020.

The FM said that over 3.3 lakh families have benefitted till now and another 2.5 lakh families are now expected to benefit from this during 2020-21.

“We think we will immediately be able to spur job creation, stimulate demand for steel, cement, transport and other construction materials and have an immediate impact on the demand side,” she added.

Farmers

An additional emergency working capital fund of Rs 30,000 cr through the (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) NABARD was announced. This is in addition to the annual average spend of Rs 90,000 crore by NABARD.

Nirmala Sitharaman said that this will be immediately released to cater to post-harvest Rabi work and preparatory work of Kharif season.

Regional rural banks and co-operative banks will be the ones to use this credit. 351 district co-op banks, 43 regional rural banks and 33 state co-op banks have come forward to avail this on-tap lending. 

The FM announced that Rs 2 lakh crore of concessional credit through Kisan credit cards will be extended to boost farming activities, which will benefit 2.5 crore farmers. 

“Out of 9 crore PM KISAN Samman receivers, 2.5 crore farmers do not have Kisan Credit Cards. We are reaching them and giving them... Fishermen and animal husbandry farmers to also be added,” the FM said. 

MUDRA-Shishu loans

For small businesses covered under the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Bank (MUDRA) scheme and have availed the moratorium offered by the RBI, the government is offering an interest subvention of 2% for prompt payees for a period of 12 months. This 2% interest subvention (a grant in aid or support) is expected to benefit about 3 crore people who are beneficiaries of the MUDRA-Shishu loans. This, the FM says, will provide a relief of Rs 15,000 crore for Mudra-Shishu loanees.

Labour code

The Minister also reiterated plans that are in the pipeline, which are currently in Parliament, including, minimum wages, removing regional disparity in minimum wages, appointment letters for all workers, a definition of inter-state migrant workers, annual health check-ups, etc. Workers welfare is at the top of our agenda, the minister said.

“Minimum wages are currently applicable only to 30%. We want to make it universal,” the minister said, referring to a labour code.

The minister added that the government is trying to overcome regional disparities in minimum wages and establish a possible national floor wage.

“Compulsory appointment letters for all workers will formalise their work. Annual health check-ups can be made mandatory. The definition of inter-state migrant workers will be modified to include those directly brought by the employer, not only those brought in by the contractor,” the minister said.

Portability of welfare benefits that was contemplated for migrant workers is in Parliament, she added.

ESIC (Employees' State Insurance) benefits will be extended to all districts and establishments that employ 10 or more employees, at least on a voluntary basis.

“For employees in hazardous industries, we want to ensure that they are given ESIC coverage. Social security schemes being extended to gig and platform workers,” Nirmala Sitharaman said.

Talking about the reskilling of retrenched workers, the minister said that all occupations should be open for women with night working rights and that safeguards are provided. Gratuity is given for fixed-term employment with the provision of gratuity on completion of one-year of service as against five years, the minister added.

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