India Pays $4.8 Billion to Its Poor to Ease Virus Woes

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India distributed about $14 each to more than 350 million people to ease their financial stress amid a nationwide lockdown enforced to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the government said.

The assistance totaling more than 370 billion rupees ($4.84 billion) was given under a state program named “PM Garib Kalyan,” K.S. Dhatwalia, a spokesman for the administration said in a statement. That’s on top of distribution of food grains to 52.9 million people and cooking gas bottles to 9.8 million families — both free of cost — he said in an email response to a Bloomberg News report on deepening distress in the nation’s villages.

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The cash-and-food support is part of a 1.7 trillion rupee plan announced by the government last month to shield the poor from the impact of the lockdown. Prime Minister Narendra Modi doubled the duration of the initial 21-day lockdown through May 3 to stem the spread of the coronavirus that’s pushing the global economy toward the worst contraction since theGreat Depression.

“The beneficiaries include not only the poor in urban and rural areas, migrant workers, but also old age pensioners, widows, building and construction workers,” Dhatwalia said. “The government has been taking all possible steps to mitigate the economic hardships for the vulnerable sections in the Indian villages.”

The government has also increased wages under a rural employment guarantee program to put more money in the hands of the poor, extended concessional loans to farmers, set up community kitchens to distribute meals, and allowed some industries to operate in rural areas, he said.

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