Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Tuesday the extension of the government-run scheme providing foodgrains including wheat, rice and cereals, free of cost to 800 million poor countrymen by five months, till November 2020 amid the prolonged fight against coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The scheme had been in force in the country since April, in a bid to provide basic food items for the poor amid the lockdown imposed on March 25.
Announcing the extension of the scheme, Modi said that the country was entering into Unlock 2.0 with effect from Wednesday, and simultaneously the festive season would soon begin in the country.
“The festive season will begin soon and last till November end. In order to ensure that no one suffers from hunger during this season, it has been decided to extend the scheme till November end,” said Modi in his address to the nation on Tuesday evening.
According to him, every individual in a poor household would be provided five kg of wheat or rice, and one kg of dry grams per month till November-end.
This would cost the exchequer around 90,000 crore Indian Rupees (about 12 billion United States dollars), Modi said, adding that if the cost incurred during the past three months in running the scheme is added, it would come out to be around 150,000 crore Indian Rupees (about 20 billion United States dollars).
Modi said that in the last three months, 200 million poor households had received direct benefit transfers worth 31,000 crore Indian Rupees (around 4.1 billion United States dollars). And, during this period, 18,000 crore Indian Rupees (2.4 billion United States dollars) have been deposited in bank accounts of over 90 million farmers, he added.
Simultaneously, the Prime Minister Poor Welfare Employment Campaign was launched for ensuring employment of migrant laborers at their places of residence in rural areas and the central government was spending 50,000 crore Indian Rupees (6.7 billion United States dollars) on this.
In his 16-minute address to the nation, Modi appealed to the countrymen to sincerely follow precautions like wearing face-masks, maintaining social distance, and avoiding unwanted travel, in the fight against COVID-19 across the country.
He expressed concern at the increased incidences of carelessness among citizens in following these precautions to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
Meanwhile, according to the fresh guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (Internal Security)on Monday evening for Unlock 2.0, restrictions shall continue to remain in force inside the COVID-19 Containment Zones.
It has also been decided that schools, colleges and coaching institutions will remain closed till July 31.
Metro Rail services and places like cinema halls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theaters, bars, auditoriums, assembly halls etc. will be allowed to open in areas outside the Containment Zones.