Union government's second tranche of COVID-19 stimulus, announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier today, was less of a stimulus for immediate relief and more of a plan to take care of the vulnerable sections of the population.
The immediate actions were mostly extensions of existing relief measures, hardly surprising, given the fact that COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the country. The free food grain supply for beneficiaries under National Food Security Act has been extended for two more months, and its scope expanded to include migrant labourers and others without ration cards is one such example. Concessional credit to PM-KISAN beneficiaries through Kisan Credit Cards and the expansion of the credit to fisherman and animal husbandy farmers is another. While Rs 3500 crore has been set aside to account for the supply of free food grains, Rs 2 lakh crore of liquidity is expected to be injected through Kisan card credit disbursements. Both the measures, and several others that find mention in the list of schemes, extended, expanded, and planned, are good, but are they enough to address the problems that are being faced by the labourers and the farmers?
One cannot be sure. There are no signs of any lump sum transfer of funds that can make up for the job losses and job uncertainties of immediate future of the labourers. No farm loan waivers, no interest free loans so far. No plans for assured prices of farm produce or large scale procurement plans for perishable items like vegetables and fruits. In fact, even the number of beneficiaries under PM-KISAN looks small as the government had claimed that 14.5 crore farmers would benefit from the PM-KISAN when the scheme was announced. So far, only 3 crore farmers have got agricultural loans. The infusion of funds through NABARD to refinance rural cooperative banks to enable an additional Rs 30,000 crore working capital for farmers, yet another measure that was announced today, is a good move, but one needs to see how much of this goes to the needy marginal farmer and not to comparatively secure agri-businesses and large farmers.
To be fair, Sitharaman has said that the government's stimulus measures for the vulnerable sections of the society are far from over and will get reflected in the next tranches of announcements too. The wait continues.