India announced an economic stimulus package worth 1.7trn rupees ($22.6bn) on Thursday, designed to help millions of low-income households cope with a 21-day lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The stimulus plan will be released through direct cash transfers and food security measures aimed at giving relief to millions of poor. The package will benefit migrant workers, Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in New Delhi.
"We have come with a package, which will immediately take care of the concerns, the welfare concerns, of the poor and suffering workers and those who need immediate help," she said at a press briefing.
Today's measures are very clearly aimed at reaching out to the poor"
Cash support listed by the finance minister include payments to farmers under an existing income support program. Free cooking gas to the poor for three months, state-sponsored contributions to retirement funds for the same duration and insurance cover of 5 million rupees to medical workers are also part of the plan, she said.
The moves comes two days after prime minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown to try to protect India's 1.3 billion people from the fast-spreading coronavirus.
Sitharaman explained that the government does not want anyone to remain hungry or go without money in hand.
"So, we will be giving enough to take care of their food grains requirement, protein requirement, in terms of pulses," she said, adding that several measures through the direct benefit transfer scheme will also be taken "so that money reaches them." Direct benefit transfer is an attempt by India to ensure that subsidies reach recipients through their bank accounts so that leakages and delays are reduced.
The government hinted that more measures are on the cards.
"Today's measures are very clearly aimed at reaching out to the poor," she said. "I will gradually address if there's more to attend to."
Infection numbers have risen worldwide to more than 416,600 and the death toll is above 18,500, according to the World Health Organization.