Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that a key government scheme to distribute free food grains to 80 crore of India's poorest would be extended by five months to November-end to give relief during the festival season as the country fights coronavirus. He referred to Diwali and Chhath Puja, a festival celebrated in a big way in Bihar.
"Keeping in mind all the festivals that are coming up in the next few months, this scheme to provide 80 crore people with 5 kg free ration and 1 kg dal (pulses) per month will now be extended till Diwali and Chhath Puja, or till the end of November," PM Modi said, addressing the nation for the sixth time after the coronavirus outbreak.
The government plans to spend Rs 90,000 crore on expanding the free ration scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, till November.
Chhath Puja is one of the most important festivals of Bihar, where elections are due later this year, around November. The Prime Minister's announcement comes at a time his party BJP as well as its allies in Bihar's ruling coalition have called for relief for thousands of migrants who remain without jobs since their return to the state after they were left stranded and desperate during the coronavirus lockdown.
"The Gareeb Kalyan scheme helped 8.71 crore people in Bihar and ensured that no one went hungry. I had called (Home Minister) Amit Shah and requested that the scheme be extended by three months. It has been extended by five. The PM is deeply connected to the poor, so understands what the poor suffered," said Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, a senior BJP leader.
The BJP hopes the PM's announcement, along with the Prime Minister Garib Rojgar Yojna of providing 125 days of work in the country's poorest districts, will offset some of the anger over the Nitish Kumar government's perceived shoddy handling of the migrant crisis.
The PM made no mention of China in the 17-minute address, which was his first to the nation since the June 15 clash in Ladakh in which 20 soldiers were killed in a brawl with Chinese troops.
Focusing on Unlock2, the Prime Minister also talked about the "One Nation, One Ration Card" scheme which he said would benefit thousands of migrant workers and their families who had no fixed home or documents.
He credited farmers and taxpayers with bolstering India's fight against the deadly virus that has infected 5.6 lakh people in the country. "You all have paid your taxes, that is the reason that the poor and migrants are not hungry. On behalf of the entire nation, I would like to thank all the farmers and the taxpayers."
PM Modi said negligence in social and personal behaviour seen after Unlock1 came into force was cause for concern at a time it was even more critical to take precautions against coronavirus.
"Whether the village Pradhan or country's Pradhan Mantri, no one is above rules," he said, urging all to wear masks.
"Earlier, we were careful about masks, do gaj doori (social distancing) and washing our hands. But now, when we need to be more cautious, increasing carelessness is cause for concern. People have to become cautious again, especially in containment zones," PM Modi said.
"We are entering Unlock2. We are also entering a season in which cold, cough, fever increases. I appeal to all of you, please take care of yourself. Please don't be careless."
The Prime Minister said India was better off compared to many countries and lakhs of lives were saved because of the lockdown and other decisions taken timely.