New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday praised the announcement of economic relief package by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman amid the coronavirus lockdown in the country, calling it the "first step in the right direction". 

"The Govt announcement today of a financial assistance package, is the first step in the right direction. India owes a debt to its farmers, daily wage earners, labourers, women & the elderly who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing lockdown," tweeted Gandhi. 

Earlier today, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi wrote to PM Modi, voicing her support to the 21-day lockdown announced by him in view of the coronavirus outbreak, and suggested several measures such as protection of doctors, easing the supply chains and deferment of loans.

Sitharaman unveiled a Rs 1.70 lakh crore economic package involving free foodgrain and cooking gas to poor for the next three months, one-time doles to women and poor senior citizens, higher wages to workers and measures to boost liquidity of employees as it looked to contain the impact of unprecedented nationwide lockdown.

Over 80 crore ration card holders will each get 5 kg of wheat or rice and one kg of preferred pulses free of cost every month for the next three months to ensure that poor are not hungry because of the close down of businesses.

Poor women, who got free cooking gas under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana during the last three years, will get free LPG refills in the next three months to tide over tight finance following the nationwide lockdown, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, adding this will benefit 8.3 crore women.

Besides, 20.5 crore women Jan Dhan Account holders will get Rs 500 per month for the next three months, while poor senior citizens, widows and disabled will get a one-time cash dole of Rs 1,000.

For workers, the daily wage under the MNREGA has been increased to Rs 202 from Rs 182, benefiting 5 crore workers who stand to gain about Rs 2,000 in all.

Also, the government will front-load Rs 2,000 payments to farmers in the first week of April under the existing PM Kishan Yojana to benefit 8.69 crore farmers.

With businesses closed during the lockdown, the government will contribute employees as well as employer's contribution to the provident fund for the next three months of companies with up to 100 employees with 90 per cent earning not more than Rs 15,000. The contribution will be a total of 24 per cent of eligible wages.

Also, workers will be allowed to draw a non-refundable advance of 75 per cent from credit in provident fund account or three months salary, whichever is lower, she said.

Posted By: Abhinav Gupta