As India slips into the risky phase of community transmission and reports a jump in the number of COVID-19 cases to 415 at the time of writing this, state governments across the country are calling for a total shutdown of everything except essential services in an effort to contain the outbreak. However, this is also likely to have a drastic economic hit on everyone. While the biggest issue some of us may be battling is being bored of the people we’re trapped indoors with or running out of things to watch on Netflix, it’s the underprivileged that are going to be impacted the worst. Even as the stock market crashes and most businesses are instructed to shut down operations, it’s the domestic help who may not have the option of working from home and daily wage labourers living packed houses who can’t help but defy all definitions of social distancing, who’re going to be hit the hardest. Even as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was criticised for only encouraging people to clap for medical workers instead of mentioning some kind of economic package that could tide us through, some state governments have already announced measures to make the situation a smidge better for those that the virus is going to be the hardest on.
On March 21, the government of Uttar Pradesh—India’s most populous state—announced a scheme through which it would be compensating daily wage earners like construction labourers, rickshaw and hard-cart pullers, and even pension for the elderly. It will be providing about Rs 1,000 to all those registered with the labour department and through the Direct Benefit Transfer, these funds will go straight to their bank accounts without the need for middlemen. The state government also said they will be providing free foodgrain rations to these workers, while the elderly will be paid pensions for both March and April.
In Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced similar steps, promising pension and advanced food rations to all underprivileged citizens. He also promised that all meals would be given for free in Delhi’s night shelters for the homeless, while the state tax would be waived for all those patients who want to use paid hotels as a quarantine centre.
Meanwhile, Kerala, which has been praised for its swift and effective measures in handling the coronavirus, announced a special economic and social welfare package of Rs 20,000 crore which includes free foodgrains and advance payment of welfare pensions. They have also relaxed taxes on the entertainment industry as well as autos and taxis, while Rs 500 crore has been set aside to build better public health infrastructure. However, notably, while the Kerala High Court had allowed for authorities not to levy taxes and recover bank dues till April 6, this order was rejected by the Supreme Court.
Still, given the battle against this highly contagious virus that we are now waging, it’s small steps like these that give us the reassurance that we’re all in this together.
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