New Delhi: To protect the rural poor from the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the Narendra Modi government has decided to expedite the transfer of cash under the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme while laying emphasis on ‘individual asset creation’ under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
The move is part of a series of measures the government is initiating to provide relief to those people whose livelihood will take a hit due to the 21-day lockdown, announced by Prime Minister Tuesday.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had also said Tuesday the government is readying a relief package for sectors reeling under the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
“An order was issued on Friday to expedite all pending payments under DBT for this financial year (2019-20). We have started the process using all alternate digital payment instruments including the Unified Payment Interface,” a senior official in the DBT Mission told ThePrint.
Currently, over 400 central government schemes have been brought under the DBT platform.
Backlog in MGNREGA wages to be expedited too
Starting Wednesday, the rural development ministry will also start clearing the backlog of MGNREGA wages and material assets that have been created. In the current fiscal, there are 8 crore job holders registered under MGNREGA.
“On Monday, Parliament approved our second supplementary demand for grants to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore. This will be used to clear the delayed wages of workers by 31 March,” a second government official said.
To ensure that the lockdown does not impact the livelihood of the rural poor, the Union rural development ministry has also told states to focus on giving work involving “individual asset creation” that require maximum four to five workers.
Under MGNREGA, individual asset creation involves building farm ponds, digging wells, horticulture-related activities among others.
“This involves up to a maximum of four to five workers and can easily be carried out while practising social distancing,” said the second official quoted earlier.
This, the official added, will ensure the worker has his livelihood even during this period of public health crisis.
The ministry, however, is yet to take a call on Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s demand seeking more funds from the Centre to pay unemployment allowance to labourers. Under the MGNREGA, a person is entitled to the allowance if he or she is not allotted work within 15 days of demand.
Ministry asks states, UTs to use cess fund for workers
On Tuesday, the Union labour ministry also issued an advisory to chief ministers of states and lieutenant governors of union territories, directing them to transfer funds into the accounts of construction workers through DBT mode from the cess fund collected by the labour welfare boards.
About Rs 52,000 crore is available as cess fund and about 3.5 crore construction workers are registered with these welfare boards.
On Monday, the government had also allowed states to collect food grains on credit from the Food Corporation of India, for a period of three months.