Thiruvananthapuram: Giving a clear hint that the fight against the contagion is going to be long and crippling, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced a massive relief package of Rs 20,000 crore.
"We are passing through a grave crisis. Ordinary life has badly been affected by the outbreak. The economy is in tatters. We need to survive," the chief minister said as preface before making the relief announcement on Thursday.
The thrust seems to be on reviving demand which has been nearly killed by the virus scare. The Chief Minister said Rs 2,000 crore has been set apart for consumer loans that would be made available through Kudumbashree.
By routing the loan through Kudumbashree, it is clear the government wants to ensure two things. One, the money falls only in the hands of lower middle class families, the most affected lot. And two, women in the family will have control of the loan so obtained.
Ramping up rural jobs
During the time of floods, too, Kudumbashree was made the implementing agency of an interest free loan scheme that gave up to Rs one lakh for those who lost their utensils and livelihood during flood. The chief minister said on Thursday that the new scheme would benefit more families but did not say whether the proposed loan scheme would be interest-free like the flood loans.
As part of efforts to revive the rural economy, the chief minister said Rs 1,000 crore each had been earmarked for rural job employment guarantee schemes during April and May months. "We are setting apart a total of Rs 2,000 crore for rural jobs," Pinarayi Vijayan said. Now that social distancing is a priority, it is not clear how many would go out for jobs.
The chief minister also announced measures that would immediately push up the purchasing power of the lower income groups. Social security pensions, which are normally disbursed only in April, will be given away this month itself. In fact, pension for two months would be provided together. "The Rs 1,320 crore required for the next two months would be distributed in one go immediately," the chief minister said. Over 50 lakh persons will stand to benefit.
Pinarayi said BPL and Antyodaya families that do not get social security pensions would be provided Rs 1,000 each. Rs 100 crore has been earmarked for this special assistance.
He said even APL families would get 10 kg of rice during the period of the virus scare. The chief minister had earlier spoken of artificial scarcity of essential goods. Supplying rice to families, irrespective of their economic status, is seen as a move to pre-empt hoarding by unscrupulous traders. This, too, would cost the exchequer Rs 100 crore.
Lunch outlets by April
To further ensure regular supply of food during these difficult times, the chief minister said that Kudumbashree would open 1,000 outlets where lunch would be served at Rs 20 next month itself. In Finance Minister Dr Thomas Isaac's budget, the plan was to start 1,000 outlets only by September. The price fixed was Rs 25. "Given the special circumstances, we are bringing down the cost to Rs 20 a lunch," the chief minister said. This would require another Rs 50 crore.
He also announced a health package of Rs 500 crore. No specific details were provided. All arrears worth Rs 11,000 crore would also be settled immediately.
Taxi and auto woes
There was a special package for taxi and auto drivers who have seen their incomes drying up alarmingly in the wake of the COVID-19 scare. Nothing could be done about taxes as owners now pay them upfront for 10-15 years. "So we have decided to waive their fitness charges," the chief minister said.
In the case of buses, both stage and contract carriers, their tax amount would be waived. Stage carriers need not have to pay the tax for April. There will be a similar reduction for contract carriers, but this will be in the form of lower taxes for next three months. Together, all of this will cost Rs 23.61 crore.
Equally effected is the cinema industry with exhibition centres closed and shootings cancelled. The industry has been exempted from paying entertainment tax, a demand it had been making for quite some time. It is not clear whether this is only temporary relief.
The government has also extended the last date of payments for electricity and water bills by one month.