In a relief to rural India, Finance Ministry has released a grant of Rs. 8923.8 crores to panchayats in 25 States for COVID-19 relief measures on Saturday. As per the PIB release, the grants are e meant for all the three tiers of Panchayati Raj Institutions – village, block and district as part of the first instalment of the ‘Untied Grants’ for the year 2021-22. As per grant allocation, Uttar Pradesh has received the highest (1441.6 cr), followed by Maharashtra (861.4 cr), while Sikkim received the least (6.2 cr).
While the 1st instalment was to be released on June as per recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic situation and at the recommendation of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, the Ministry of Finance has decided to release the grant in advance. The grant may be used by Rural Local Bodies (RLBs) for various prevention and mitigation measures needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Finance commission had levied certain conditions on the grant, in lieu of the pandemic, Centre has waived it for the first instalment.
Previously on May 1, the Ministry of Finance released the first instalment of Rs 8873.6 crores i.e. Rs.4436.8 crores for the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) in advance. The Finance Ministry also added that 50 per cent of this amount can be used by the states for COVID-19 containment measures. Normally, the first instalment of SDRF is released in the month of June as per the recommendations of the Finance Commission. But in lieu of the pandemic, the Centre released the funds without waiting for the utilization certificate of the amount provided to the states in the last financial year.
As per the Finance Ministry, the funds from SDRF may be used by the states for various measures related to containment of COVID-19 including meeting the cost of oxygen generation and storage plants in hospitals, ventilators, air purifiers, strengthening ambulance services, COVID-19 hospitals, COVID Care Centres, consumables, thermal scanners, personal protective equipment, testing laboratories, testing kits, containment zone, etc.
Currently, India is grappling with a second wave of COVID-19, with the infection hitting rural India too. The biggest issue has been the acute oxygen supply with Delhi being hit the worst - several hospitals have moved the High Court seeking oxygen supply. While the Centre and Delhi govt have blamed each other for the ongoing oxygen crisis in the national capital, Railways has started 'Oxygen Express' to transport liquid oxygen to the states via green corridors. Delhi, which has increased its demand to 900 MT oxygen per day has been allotted only 480 MT by Centre. SC has ordered the Centre to maintain a daily supply of 700 MT to Delhi. Meanwhile, India's vaccination drive has hit a roadblock due to shortage of supplies. Centre has approved an advance payment of Rs 4,567.50 crores to Serum Institute of India (SII) & Bharat Biotech (BBL) to ramp up vaccine production. Soon enough, most state governments placed lakhs of orders with the two vaccine manufacturers, but are yet to receive their orders.