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Sri Lanka announces $1 billion relief for people as New Year gift

Economic instability haunts Sri Lanka (Photo: IANS)

Amid surging anger and food shortages, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government has unveiled a Rs 229-billion ($1 billion) relief package for its harried citizens.

Announced by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa at a press conference on Tuesday, the relief seeks to address different constituents ranging from public servants to farmers and disabled soldiers to poor families, reports The Daily Mirror.

The Sri Lankan cabinet cleared the relief package on Monday. 

Rajapaksa said that the government also plans to start a dialogue with donor countries like India, China, the US, European Union and Japan for relief. It will also speak with international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. The Finance Minister added that a minister dedicated to negotiations with each country and agency will be appointed soon.

Salient features of Sri Lanka's relief package:

  • A Rs 5,000 monthly allowance to government employees and disabled soldiers
  • Private sector also asked to also provide the same benefits to its employees
  • Pensions will also go up by Rs 5,000
  • Rs 5,000 to be paid to people for growing food crops in smaller home gardens and Rs 20,000 for bigger ones
  • Farmers to get an extra Rs 25 per kg of paddy
  • Subsidised wheat flour for plantation workers
  • Taxes waived on medicines and essential food items  
  • Rs 1,000 additional payments to 1.7 million Samurdhi families
  • No new taxes

The government hopes that the stimulus will alleviate the suffering of people due to food and fuel inflation even as it revives the local economy, says The Daily FT.

The Sri Lankan economy, also dependent on tourism, nosedived due to the covid-19 pandemic. Massive shortage of foreign exchange resulted in high fuel prices and shortage of medicines and food. 

A ban on the use of chemical fertilisers in an effort to make Sri Lanka an organic country led to crop failures and a subsequent shortage of food. The economic relief is seen as a measure to quell the anger and calm down the negative sentiment against the government.