Monday, June 21, 2021

BSY extends ₹1,250 crore Covid relief

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Bengaluru: Karnataka chief minister B S Yediyurappa on Wednesday announced a financial relief package of 1,250 crore for certain sections of people affected economically by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. The CM specified that the beneficiaries will be farmers, workers from the unorganised sector, autorickshaw and taxi drivers and street vendors among others.

The package has come weeks after the government went back on its earlier decision not to announce a lockdown in the state on account of its own unpreparedness despite warnings of a second wave by a government-appointed technical advisory committee in November. The Yediyurappa government was under tremendous pressure from the Opposition to announce a relief package, with Congress demanding 10,000 for every EWS (economically weaker section) household hit hard by the lockdown, still in effect until May 24.

However, a statement by the chief minister’s office shows that the package is worth 1,111.82 crore, less than the announced figure. “Even when our financial situation is not very good, we are telling the people that we are there with them,” the CM explained at the press conference while announcing the package.

Last year too, CM Yediyurappa had announced a financial package of 1,610 crore. But multiple sources, including beneficiaries, had said that it did little to compensate for the loss of income and livelihood.

With 15 droughts in the last two decades and four major floods during this period, the large farming population in Karnataka now has fewer sources of income. The recent devastation left behind by cyclone Tauktae has only added to the pre-existing woes of the people. So far, no separate relief package has been announced for those hit by the cyclone.

Former chief minister and Congress leader, Siddaramaiah, claimed that CM Yediyurappa had announced total relief to the tune of 2,100 crore last year, but the money wasn’t spent, and less than 50% of the targeted beneficiaries received any help.

Karnataka’s health situation has steadily deteriorated with Covid cases going up and the government hasn’t been able to do much about it on its own. While Bengaluru, which accounted for almost 60% of the cases and fatalities, has seen a sharp decline in new infections, data has also shown fewer tests that experts say explain why there are fewer cases.

The financial package involves a one-time payment of 10,000 to about 20,000 flower growers and 69,000 farmers who produce fruit and vegetables costing the exchequer a total of around 81.73 crore. Relief ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 will be provided to around 2.10 lakh licensed autorickshaw, taxi and maxi cab drivers, and around 3.04 lakh people working as barbers, dhobis, hamalis (porters), ragpickers, potters, goldsmiths, mechanics, and domestic workers.

Around 2.20 lakh street vendors would get around 2,000 each, totalling 44 crore, while 16,095 artists and artist groups would receive 3,000 each, costing the state exchequer 4.85 crore. Registered construction workers would get 3,000 from the welfare fund that would entail a total relief of 494 crore.

The chief minister also extended the period for short, medium, and long-term loans availed by around 4.25 lakh farmers and others by three months that would cost the government 134.38 crore in interest payment.

The chief minister also said that the state is extending the relief given by the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana by giving an additional 30 lakh people 5kg rice that would in total benefit around 4.34 crore people or 1.26 crore ration card holders.

Even those who do not have APL (above poverty line) or BPL (below poverty line) cards will receive relief, but those with BPL cards will receive 10kg food grains for May and June and those with APL cards will receive the same amount of food grains at 15 per kilo.

Yediyurappa said that his government was spending around 25 crore to provide free food to around 6 lakh people daily through Indira Canteens.

But the Opposition leaders claimed that the package is too inadequate. Former chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Kumaraswamy gave the example of Kerala to drive home this point. “Kerala announced a lockdown in March and announced a package of 20,000 crore. Kerala is a small state compared to Karnataka. Is 1,200 crore any compensation for Karnataka?” Kumaraswamy said, adding that he had asked for a lockdown in March, but the government paid no heed to it.

The Congress repeated its demand for 10,000 for all EWS households and said that the money should be handed over to the panchayats. “The government should conduct a survey on how many people have lost jobs. This is not a government that thinks about the poor. Since we insisted on a package, they have announced it. But it has completely failed,” said D K Shivakumar, the president of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.

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