New Delhi: The Union government on Saturday announced a number of welfare measures for children orphaned by the COVID-19 pandemic, including a corpus of Rs 10 lakh whose interest they will receive as a stipend for five years when they turn 18 followed by the handing over of the principal, as well as administrative and financial support for their education.
The money for this will come from the PM Cares Fund, the prime minister’s office said in a press release. As of now, the total number beneficiaries of this scheme is estimated to be under 600..
In a second announcement, the PMO said that the family pension the Employees State Insurance Corporation offers for the families of enrolled workers who die on the job would be extended to cover death due to COVID-19. It is not known what percentage of the 325,000 Indians who have officially died of Covid are enrolled with the ESIC.
In the absence of further details and clarifications, it is likely that the benefits announced Saturday would only be for deaths certified as due to Covid – which are a fraction of actual Covid-related mortality across the country. In some states like Gujarat, official Covid deaths are believed to be just 10% of actual deaths.
These relief measures were taken at a meeting chaired by the prime minister, a PMO release said, but it did not identify who else took part in this meeting.
The PMO statement said that fixed deposits will be opened in the names of all children who have lost both parents – or a surviving parent or legal guardian/adoptive parents – due to Covid-19, and the PM-CARES fund will contribute, through a specially designed scheme, to create a corpus of Rs 10 lakh for each of them.
This corpus will be used to give a monthly financial support or stipend from 18 years of age for the next five years to take care of his or her personal requirements during the period of higher education. On reaching the age of 23 years, they will get the corpus amount as one lump-sum for personal and professional use.
The new policy has already been questioned by the opposition, with Prashant Kishor, advisor to the chief minister of West Bengal, tweeting that orphans needed financial support now and may not be able to wait till they turn 18:
– Instead of receiving much needed support NOW, the children should feel POSITIVE about a PROMISE of stipend when they turn 18 (1/2) https://t.co/6m4uu16YWM
— Prashant Kishor (@PrashantKishor) May 30, 2021
Help with education
As far as their education is concerned, the PMO said children under 10 years will be given admission in the nearest Kendriya Vidyalaya or in a private school as a day scholar. Those between 11-18 years of age will be given admission in any central government residential school such as Sainik School and Navodaya Vidyalaya. In case the child remains under the care of a guardian or extended family, then he or she will be given admission in the nearest Kendriya Vidyalaya or in a private school as a day scholar.
If the child is admitted in a private school, fees as prescribed under the Right to Education Act norms will be given from the PM-CARES fund, and it will also pay for expenditure on uniform, text books and notebooks, the PMO added.
For higher education, children will be assisted in obtaining an education loan for professional courses or higher education in India according to existing norms. The interest on this loan will be paid from the PM-CARES fund.
As an alternative, a scholarship equivalent to the tuition fees or course fees for undergraduate and vocational courses will be provided to them under the central or state government schemes.
For children who are not eligible under the existing scholarship schemes, PM CARES will provide an equivalent scholarship.
The orphans will also be enrolled as beneficiaries under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme, with a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh. The premium amount for these children till the age of 18 years will be paid by PM-CARES, it said.
Prashant Kishor has derided both of these assurances too, saying that the orphans, like all children, are already entitled to free education under the RTE Act, and that the promised health insurance may also be a chimera:
– Be grateful to #PMCares for PROMISE of free education; a RIGHT guaranteed by the Constitution/RTE
– Thank @PMOIndia for ASSURANCE to be enrolled in Ayushman Bharat that supposedly covers healthcare needs of 50Cr Indians but only FAILED to provide bed/oxygen when needed (2/2)
— Prashant Kishor (@PrashantKishor) May 30, 2021
As many as 577 children across the country were orphaned after their parents succumbed to COVID-19, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani had said earlier this week citing reports of states and union territories from April 1 till May 25.
Family pension scheme for dependents of ESIC enrolees
In a separate press statement, the PMO said that the government had decided that the benefit of the Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) pension scheme for employment-related death cases would be extended to those enrolees who have died due to Covid.
“Dependent family members of such persons will be entitled to the benefit of pension equivalent to 90% of average daily wage drawn by the worker as per the existing norms. This benefit will be available retrospectively with effect from 24.03.2020 and for all such cases till 24.03.2022”, the PMO said.
“To benefit families of contractual/ casual workers, the condition of continuous employment in only one establishment has been liberalized, with benefit being made available to families of even those employees who may have changed jobs in the last 12 months preceding his death.”
With inputs from PTI