In the backdrop of the coronavirus (Covid-19) scare affecting the livelihoods of daily wage earners due to slowing down of the economy, the state governments across the country are planning to give unemployment benefits to contract and temporary workers who have the fear of losing their jobs, and putting a plan in place to tackle the economic challenges thrown up by the pandemic. As a measure of social distancing and to contain the spread of the virus, many states have announced a lockdown in India till March 31.
The labour ministry has asked central ministries and states concerned to ensure that employers don’t fire their employees, particularly contractual or casual workers, or reduce their wages amid Covid-19 outbreak as it would deepen the crisis. The ministry has also asked the states and ministries that all employees going on leave during the lockdown period should be deemed on duty without any consequential pay cut.
Under the prevailing circumstances the daily or contract wage earners are the worst-hit because they are dependent on their daily earnings to meet the basic needs.
In a raft of anti-coronavirus measures, governments across Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are ramping up efforts to provide financial assistance to compensate businesses and people, particularly daily wagers. The administrations are coming up with guidelines for safety and security of those who are running the health services, financial, power, transport, water supply and sanitation services etc.
The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has announced a financial package of over Rs 353 crore to give cash handouts to an estimated 3.53 million daily wage earners and labourers, who are likely to be hit due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Moreover, amount of Rs 1,000 each will be given to 1.5 million daily wage labourers and 2.03 million construction workers across the state through direct benefit transfer. That means, the beneficiaries including rickshaw pullers, hawkers and kiosk owners, will get the money directly into their bank accounts.
The state has also decided to provide free food grains for the months of April and May in advance to more than 8.38 million widow, old age and handicapped pensioners next month. Moreover, the state government has urged the Centre to sanction Rs 556 crore for payment towards the jobs rendered by beneficiaries under the MNREGS.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has declared an immediate relief of Rs 3,000 to each registered construction worker in the state. The money would be transferred to their bank accounts in a bid to mitigate the hardships being faced by them in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. A total sum of Rs 96 crore has been earmarked for this purpose.
CM Amarinder Singh sanctioned Rs 20 crore out of the Chief Minister Relief Fund for providing free food and medicines to the needy in the state. Punjab IAS officers association and state cabinet ministers also announced to donate their one month salary to the CM relief fund.
Punjab Health Minister has requested the Centre to release Rs 150 crore for building isolations wards and other buildings necessary to treat coronavirus patients. The state has sought a comprehensive economic package from the Centre to mitigate the hardship resulting from Covid-19 to the most vulnerable people and establishments across sectors.
The state has directed the local government department to defer the due date of making payment of water and sewerage bills by one month in all Municipal Corporations and Councils, besides extending the amnesty scheme on property tax till May 31, 2020.
The state government of Haryana has also announced special financial assistance for people in Below Poverty Line (BPL) category and low-income groups like daily wagers, labourers, street vendors and construction workers. This will cost the state government nearly Rs 1,200 crore per month, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said.
As part of relief measures, the state also announced setting up of a Haryana Corona Relief Fund (HCRF) and appealed to people to make voluntary donations, as he himself contributed Rs 500,000 from his personal account. The money will be used to mitigate hardship of those affected by the Covid-19 spread.
Enlisting measures for the poor, CM said all BPL families will be provided their monthly rations for the month of April free of cost while all government school children and those enrolled with anganwadis will be given dry rations for the period the schools and anganwadis stay closed.
Those registered with the Haryana Board of Construction Workers but have not registered under Mukhya Mantri Parivar Samriddhi scheme will be provided a sum of Rs 4,500 per month on weekly basis starting March 30. The sum will be credited directly to their bank accounts.
All BPL families who have not registered under MMPSY will be provided a sum of Rs 4,500 per month on weekly basis starting March 30. Daily wagers, including labourers and street vendors, may register with the deputy commissioner of the district on a portal that will be established by March 27, Khattar said, adding all such persons, found eligible and having a bank account, will be directly provided an assistance of Rs 1,000 per week.
All coronavirus patients, if requiring hospitalisation, will be admitted free of cost. All health and frontline workers, engaged in curbing the coronavirus spread, will be provided accident insurance of Rs 1 million. A special package for agriculture and farmers will be announced by the government by March 28.
The Kerala government has decided to facilitate loans worth Rs 2,000 crore through a self-help group ‘Kudumbashree’ in the nature of a consumer loan to those impacted by Covid-19. Another Rs 2,000 crore will be distributed as village employment assurance programme for April and May. Social welfare pensions, due in April, will be distributed this month, and for two-month pension, it is expected to be around Rs 1,320 crore.
Foodgrains will be provided to families from all spectrum whether they are below poverty line or not. The government has allowed a one-month extension for the payment of water and electricity bills, and plans to launch restaurants will be fast-tracked and meals will be offered at Rs 20 instead of Rs 25, which was fixed earlier. Besides, tax relief has been declared to auto-rickshaws and taxis and buses.
The Kerala government has already declared Rs 20,000-crore special package to overcome coronavirus disease, including Rs 14,000 crore to clear all arrears pending in various sectors and Rs 500-crore health package.
The Delhi government will pay salaries for all contractual staff, daily wage staff and guest teachers employed at places which have been closed in view of the coronavirus outbreak. Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Manish Sisodia said the novel coronavirus was causing terrible financial stress to the poor and announced that those receiving ration from fair-price shops would get 50 per cent extra for next month.
CM Arvind Kejriwal has doubled the pension for widows, differently-abled and elderly for this month. "We are extremely concerned about daily wagers, labourers who have been hit hard over the coronavirus crisis; don't want anyone to go hungry," he said, adding that lunch and dinner would be provided for homeless in night shelters.
"7.2 million people in Delhi get ration from fair price shops. Ration per person is being increased by 50 per cent. It will be provided free," Kejriwal said. He also announced that the goods and services tax would be waived to make it more affordable for those who needed to be quarantined and were opting for the paid hotel facility.
Himachal Pradesh government has announced Rs 500-crore relief package for the poor and the needy, and Rs 30 crore for construction workers who are likely to face financial troubles due the coronavirus outbreak. About 105,000 workers registered with the Building and Construction Workers Board will be provided Rs 2,000 as one-time relief.
Besides this, ration including flour and rice for two months will be given to targeted public distribution system card holders. In the same way, Rs 160.2 crore as first quarter pension will be released to social security pension holders in the first week of April. Moreover, Rs 3,000 as first quarter pension will be provided within a fortnight to about 534,000 social security pension holders including about 125,000 widows and disabled persons.