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Coronavirus compensation promised to poor workers in India

Millions of poor Indians may receive cash compensation for income lost to coronavirus, as officials in Uttar Pradesh state started counting the number of qualifying citizens on Wednesday.

19 March 2020, at 1:09pm

The 200 million-strong northern state - the most populous and one of the poorest in India - became the first to announce on Tuesday that it would make online payments to poor and daily wage workers if they lost work because of the global epidemic, reported the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We are tabulating the number of vegetable vendors, construction workers, rickshaw pullers, autorickshaw drivers and temporary staff at shops," said a labour official who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"This is a major decision. But we don't have any data on the workers. The announcement is to make online payments to them, so we need the information such as social security numbers, bank account numbers, of all workers."

The International Labour Organization said on Wednesday that about 25 million jobs could be lost globally due to coronavirus.

With three deaths and 151 confirmed cases of the virus, of which 16 were from Uttar Pradesh, India has so far fared better than elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America.

But experts say India's already overstretched medical system would struggle to deal with a major rise in serious cases.

About 30 percent of Uttar Pradesh's population – or 60 million people - live below the poverty line, surviving off on less than $2 a day, according to Indian government and World Bank data.

The labour official said departments including labour, finance and agriculture were meeting on Wednesday, with a final report being submitted to the chief minister within three days.

"We are in the process of preparing a scheme," the state's principal secretary for finance Sanjiv Mittal confirmed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Labour experts said the federal government must also consider reimbursing labour costs of coronavirus-hit industries and small businesses to ensure they do not lay off staff.

"Workers in certain sectors, such as hotels, food and beverages, poultry and transport, are already hit by social distancing," said labour economist Anoop Satpathy of the V. V. Giri National Labour Institute.

"As the number of affected cases increase and we move towards a lockdown situation, businesses and workers will be severely impacted," said Satpathy, who headed the Indian government's expert committee on minimum wages.