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Economy

Modi extends $20bn free ration scheme for India's poor by 5 months

More than 800 million people to benefit as the country fights spike in COVID-19 cases

Workers load sacks of wheat onto a supply truck at the Gharaunda Grains Market in Karnal district of the northern state of Haryana, India.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday extended a free food grain scheme for over 800 million people until the end of November as the country battles a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The scheme for the poor was first announced in late March when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, and had been due to end on Tuesday. India, a country of over 1.3 billion, has so far reported 566,840 coronavirus cases, including 16,893 deaths, and has extended the lockdown through to the end of July.

"Over 900 billion rupees [$11.9 billion] will be spent on this extension of [the program]," Modi said in a televised address to the nation. "If we add expenditure of the last three months on this scheme, then it comes to around 1.5 trillion rupees."

Under the scheme, more than 800 million people have been getting five kilograms of wheat or rice per month, along with one kilogram of pulses per household.

"In a way, over 2.5 times the population of the United States, 12 times the population of the United Kingdom and double the population of the European Union were given free rations by our government," Modi said.

The prime minister also said the country is moving toward the establishment of a "one nation, one ration card," which would benefit poor people who travel to other states in search of work.

Modi noted that in the last three months, 310 billion rupees had been transferred into the bank accounts of about 200 million poor families, while 180 billion rupees had been given to over 90 million farmers. Separately, 500 billion rupees are being spent on an employment generation program.

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