Centre considering extending cash support schemes for poor beyond June

There are other elements of support such as the provision of free gas cylinders and incentives under the PM-Kisan scheme
It is learnt that central government officials are debating the extension of national-level cash support schemes for the poor beyond June. These include cash assistance of Rs 500 per month given to 200 million women with Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) bank accounts to make up for the immediate loss in income due to the countrywide Covid-19 lockdown. 

Since last week, banks have begun to pay out last of the three tranches of monthly subsistence. Finance ministry officials said money has to be provided from the rural development ministry budget. Since the stakes are high, a decision has to be taken by the Prime Ministers Office. If the Centre decides to go through with another round of monthly aid, it is likely to move closer to a universal basic income structure. In which case, it would become a permanent draw on government finance.
We will  find it difficult to withdraw later, said a source. The political underpinnings could be high against such withdrawals despite the overtly stretched central government finances. There are other elements of support such as the provision of free gas cylinders and incentives under the PM-Kisan scheme. It is understood that a decision on these has been deferred since they are not related to a monthly cycle. The payment of support to women account holders, however, follows a monthly cycle. 

Significantly, the data shows the rate of withdrawal of money from banks by women has been lukewarm. Less than 50 per cent of account holders have withdrawn money after two instalments were paid out. The government has transferred Rs 20,000 crore to these accounts over the months of April, May, and June. Last week, the NITI Aayog did a stock-taking exercise of such digital transfers in association with the State Bank of India. It has supported the possible scaling up of such support. 
The government has taken on the role of India  digital financial infrastructure in successfully making direct transfers to target groups in a timely manner and made vital financial assistance available to the vulnerable during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This was made possible only due to a robust digital financial infrastructure established over the past five years, read a statement released by the Aayog on Saturday.

Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer, NITI Aayog, said on Saturday that the opening of Jan Dhan accounts has successfully enabled zero-cost, zero-balance bank accounts. It is equally noteworthy that of the 380-million PMJDY bank accounts opened to date, around 53 per cent are in the names of women, he said.

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