COVID19, Government of India, India, Media
 

Explainer: What is the ‘Journalist Welfare Scheme’ & does it cover COVID-19 treatment expenses?

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Recently, news went viral that the Government of India has formulated a special scheme for journalists and that they are eligible for financial help if they are hospitalized due to COVID or in the case of death due to COVID. Is this true? Is there any such welfare scheme for Journalists?

In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, multiple insurance & health related schemes have been launched by the government for various sections of society. Recently, news went viral that the Government of India has formulated a special scheme for journalists and that they are eligible for financial help if they are hospitalized due to COVID or in the case of death due to COVID. Is there any such dedicated new scheme for journalists? Here is an explainer of the ‘Journalist Welfare Scheme’ launched by the Government of India in 2013. We also explain if this scheme covers COVID. 

Effective from 01 February 2013, Government of India launched a new scheme aimed at providing aid to journalists and their families, referred as ‘Journalist Welfare Scheme’.  The aid would be in the form of a one-time ex-gratia relief which is to be provided on an urgent basis in case of any dire need. As per the purpose highlighted in the notification for revisions to the Journalist Welfare Scheme issued on 28 March 2018, the scheme is in line with the constitutional responsibility of the government to look after the vulnerable. Therefore, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) has initiated this scheme to give timely and transparent support to Journalists and their families facing any extreme hardships. 

PIB accredited journalists and non-accredited journalists who meet specific criteria are eligible 

The guidelines of Journalist Welfare Scheme provides for the definition of the term ‘Journalist’ which is the following. It does not mean all those who meet this definition are eligible for relief under this scheme. A separate list of eligibility conditions is defined in the guidelines. 

  • ‘Working Journalist’ as defined under ‘Working Journalists and other Newspaper employees (Condition of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955’
  • ‘Media Personnel’ whose work interests include reporting or editing for News channels of – Radio, TV or Web based portal and employed either as full-time or part-time. This could include – news editor, reporter, photographer, Photojournalists, freelance journalists, camera man etc. 
  • The definition excludes any Media personnel who is engaged in administrative  and supervisory roles. 

As mentioned earlier, all those who fall under the definition of ‘Journalist’ need to meet the following eligibility criteria to be eligible for relief under this scheme. 

Journalists also made part of the Journalists Welfare Committee since March’2018

Journalist Welfare Scheme is formulated & implemented by Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB). The administration of the scheme is taken up by a Committee that is formed for this purpose. 

As per the initial guidelines issued in 2013, the Committee consisted of 5 members, with the Secretary of MIB as the Chairperson of this committee. The Government of India’s I&B Minister was made the Patron of the Committee. 

However in 2018, Ministry of I&B has reconstituted the committee and made it leaner for functioning more efficiently.  

Only the Secretary (I&B), Principal Director General, PIB and Joint Secretary (P&A) would be the official members of the committee. As part of the changes, six journalists were made as non-official members of the Committee. The term of these non-official members is set as 2 years. 

The Committee is required to meet at-least once in a quarter to review and decide on the applications received. However, depending on the urgency , the Chairperson can call for more frequent meetings. In a few cases, the committee can make exceptions beyond the guidelines and send them for approval to the Minister of Information & Broadcasting. 

The application can be made online or offline in prescribed format. The applications received are processed by Principal DG, PIB and forwarded to the committee for their review and approval. The committee can also suo moto take up cases of grant for financial assistance even if there is not application from the journalists or beneficiaries. 

Different ‘Grant’ limits based on the severity of the situation

The scheme provides for grants of varying value depending on the need and severity of the hardship being faced by the journalist or their family. 

As per changes made to the guidelines on 05 March, 2019, under case (3), the age limit of 65 years was eased for accredited journalists. Prior to this change, the age limit was applicable for everyone. 

All the payments are made only to the Aadhar seeded Bank accounts of the beneficiary. The financial assistance provided to the journalists is not a matter of right  but is decided by the committee based on the merits of the application. 

Budget for the ‘Journalist Welfare Scheme’ increased to ₹ 1 crore from 2018-19

All the payments are made from the budgetary allocations that are earmarked for the Journalist Welfare Scheme. Accordingly, the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting makes the requisition as part of Ministry’s Demand for Grants

On 21 March 2018, the government increased the budgetary allocation to this welfare scheme. Until 2017-18, the allocation was ₹ 20 lakhs every year, which has been increased fivefold i.e. ₹ 1 Crore from 2018-19. This increase in allocation was made in view of the increase in requests and approval of the grants being more than the set limit of ₹ 20 lakhs over the past few years. 

As per the details provided in an answer in Lok Sabha on 19  July 2019, the amount allocated in 2016-17 and 2017-18 was more than ₹ 20 lakh limit.

As per the details provided in an earlier answer in Lok Sabha on 06 August 2014, a total of ₹ 21 lakhs were provided in grants for 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Is COVID-19 related death & illness covered under this scheme?

The Government of India has not made any changes to this scheme after the COVID-19 outbreak. Hence it is not explicitly covered. However, in case of an unfortunate death of a journalist (if eligible as per the given criteria), the victim’s family can apply under one of the provisions of this scheme. Secondly, as per officials of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) who FACTLY reached out to, COVID-19 has not been included in the list of major ailments as yet for a journalist to apply under the scheme. So, as it stands today, the family of the journalist, in case of an unfortunate death can apply under this scheme if the other criteria are satisfied. However, treatment expenses for COVID-19 are not yet covered. 

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