Covid-19: Govt likely to announce second set of measures to help poor, MSMEs

NEW DELHI: Discussions in the
government on the
stimulus have pointed to the need to provide support to the poor, through the expansion of public distribution system and other steps, and also help micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which are seen to be among the most vulnerable, through a variety of measures instead of offering across the board sops to the corporate sector, which is unlikely to benefit the consumers.

While finance minister
Nirmala Sitharaman had announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore package for the poor last month, sources told TOI, there was a need to expand the coverage, with some of the proposed measures providing support beyond just the lockdown period. The government is set to announce a second set of measures in the coming days to counter the impact of the lockdown, which is seen to be essential to prevent loss of lives.

Although, the lobby groups have been brandishing large numbers on the required size of support, the government, after extensive consultations with ministries and experts, believes there is a “stimulus industry” at work, which is using the pandemic as an opportunity to seek concessions. For instance, sops to the auto sector may not result in spurring demand as consumers are holding back expenses, especially of discretionary nature, due to the massive uncertainty in the global economy. The stand comes despite agencies such as
NITI Aayog playing along with industry chambers in backing a large stimulus.

In any case, the open-ended support offered by the
UPA in 2008 is seen to have caused a lot of damage to the credit culture as well as price stability.

Instead, senior officials said, the idea is to help the MSME sector, which is suffering heavily as it lies in an area where even a small setback pushes it into the red zone. Already MSME minister
Nitin Gadkari has talked about a Rs 1 lakh crore fund to provide succour to the sector which accounts for a large chunk of manufacturing activity and jobs.

The need to keep the package focused on a few segments is also necessitated by the realisation that the Centre’s fiscal headroom is limited, given that there are several off-budget items for the
Centre and states, apart from the massive hit to revenues, both tax and non-tax, and the need for higher spending in focus segments such as healthcare.

In any case, sources said, the stimulus should not be looked at only from the prism of government spending but also needs to factor in the steps that RBI has initiated, which come at a cost.

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