New Delhi: A day after former Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a dig at the NITI Aayog for having predicted earlier that there won’t be any COVID-19 cases after May 16, he hit out at the Union government again on Saturday. He said that the economic stimulus package that the prime minister had announced and which the finance minister has been detailing over the last three days was merely “a package of loans” that will not provide any immediate relief to scores of migrant labourers and farmers severely affected by the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
“Our people need money. Prime minister should reconsider this package. Modiji should think about direct cash transfer, 200 working days under MNREGA, money for farmers, because they are the future of India,” Gandhi said, while proposing yet again a direct cash transfer scheme like NYAY that his party had promised during the general elections last year. He said that only a scheme like Nyuntam Aay Yojana, or NYAY, which offered an annual income support of Rs 72,000 to the poor will help the poor tide over this crisis.
On Friday, even as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to show spikes, Gandhi posted a graph that the NITI Aayog had released to casually claim that the lockdown will put an end to infections.
Gandhi has been saying that the lockdown was merely a “pause button” to slow down the rate of infections, and that the epidemic had to be contained through a two-fold long term strategy that involved increased testing, revamping of the country’s public health care, and increased government spending in the social and financial sectors.
The geniuses at Niti Aayog have done it again.
I’d like to remind you of their graph predicting the Govt’s national lockdown strategy would ensure no fresh Covid cases from tomorrow, May the 16th. pic.twitter.com/zFDJtI9IXP
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 15, 2020
While expressing concerns about the government’s apparent lack of preparedness, the Congress leader on Saturday said, “It (the economic package) is not a bad step, but, the most important thing right now, is that we put money directly into the hands of our poor people.” As many experts have already pointed out, Gandhi said that the package does do enough to increase demand, and unless the government ensures that, it will be very difficult for India to cope with the economic fallouts of the pandemic.
Worse yet to come if the government doesn’t step up
Addressing regional media via video conferencing this morning, Gandhi said it was “heart-breaking” to see people “walking on the highways with no food, no water” and MSMEs taking the maximum blow because of the lockdown.
“When a child has an accident or gets hurt, the mother or the father does not give him a bank loan. They do not give him credit. A mother is ready to give whatever food or water she has to her child and that is the spirit the Government of India should apply,” he said of the economic package, while emphasising that the government’s primary “duty” should be to protect the most vulnerable.
“The Government of India should not worry about what the foreigners are going to say, what the agencies are going to say. The Government of India should have faith in our small and medium businesses, should have faith in our people, in our farmers, faith in the people…” he said, adding that the aftermath of the lockdown could be so bad that it is “going to over shadow the disease of COVID”.
On the lifting of the lockdown, the Wayanad MP said that the government should not be treating it as an “event”, and should consider it as a “process” which has to be handled cleverly and sensitively.
Need for greater transparency
Later in the day, Gandhi also released a statement that highlighted that the government needed to work in a more transparent way.
“Although the Prime Minister belatedly announced an economic stimulus package on May 12, 2020, the specific details and the contours of the package and its true extent, are not yet clear to the public and are rather opaque. The Finance Minister’s daily press conferences on the issue are only adding to the confusion, making India increasingly skeptical and restless,” he said.
He said that like the migrant labourers, farmers too have been facing an unprecedented crisis. “Unseasonal rains and hailstorms have destroyed their crops in many parts of India. The nationwide lockdown has put a brake on the sale of the harvest at Minimum Support Price (MSP). GST continues to be imposed on fertilisers, pesticides and even agricultural equipment. Though global prices have crashed, the price of diesel, which our farmers use across India, hasn’t seen any reduction…Yet other than rehashing old schemes and making some advances against them, no concrete steps have been taken to relieve our farmers of their suffering.”
He added that the MSMEs that create over 11 crore jobs have just been offered easy loans, which if they avail of can further trap them in a vicious debt cycle.
He then went on to release a set of recommendations that he claimed had been prepared through a consultative process within his party. They included a plan for income support for the poor, 200 days of MGNREGA work, wholesome food support to 11 crore people outside the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS), and financial support and subsidies to farmers, MSMEs and small traders. He also said that a credit guarantee scheme with interest subsidy should be introduced for MSMEs, traders, and large industries. He urged that the retail supply chain should be restored immediately, except for those located in hotspots, as a measure of relief for small shopkeepers.
Above all he said, migrant labourers should be treated with dignity and respect, and that the government was duty-bound to ensure their safe return to their homes, free of cost.