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Compassion absent: Sonia

Government had only partially accepted the constructive suggestions from cross-sections of society and Congress chief ministers
Sonia Gandhi

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 23.04.20, 11:17 PM

The Congress Working Committee on Thursday asked the Narendra Modi government to prepare a detailed “exit strategy”, saying an extension of the full lockdown beyond May 3 would cause great harm.

Party president Sonia Gandhi told the working committee that while the outbreak was spreading “disturbingly”, extending the lockdown “would be even more devastating”.

“The pandemic has increased disturbingly, both in spread and speed. All sections of our society continue to face acute hardship and distress. Trade, commerce and industry have come to a virtual halt and crores of livelihoods have been destroyed,” she said.

“The central government does not appear to have a clear idea on how the situation will be managed after May 3. A lockdown of the present nature after that date would be even more devastating.”

The meeting — the second on the Covid-19 crisis in the past few days — rued that the economic task force announced by the Prime Minister a month ago hadn’t yet presented a plan to the government.

It passed a resolution saying: “The CWC demands the utilisation of the remaining lockdown period for the preparation and publication of a detailed ‘exit strategy’ and a comprehensive ‘road map’ for the future: to substantially increase health infrastructure capacity to deal with the pandemic; and to revive the economy and protect current levels of employment and wages/ income.”

Sonia regretted that the government had only partially accepted the constructive suggestions from cross-sections of society and Congress chief ministers.

She said: “The compassion, large-heartedness and alacrity that should be forthcoming from the central government is conspicuous by its absence.”

Sonia repeated the party’s charges about the scarcity of personal protection equipment, mishandling of migrant workers’ issues, the low levels of testing, faulty testing kits, inadequate support for the poor and the denial of a package to the MSMEs.

Seeking adequate financial assistance for the states, the CWC resolution said: “The fight against Covid-19 is being fought at the state, district, city and village level. States, therefore, must be empowered to devise solutions tailored to their unique situations and challenges.

“The fight must be bottom-up instead of the top-down, one-size-fits-all policy currently on display. The central government can vastly bolster the states’ efforts by providing them with adequate financial support, starting with releasing their full share of the Goods and Services Tax collected so far and allowing them greater fiscal space to borrow.”

The working committee highlighted the miserable state of the poor and the stranded migrant labourers, and repeated its demands for the transfer of Rs 7,500 to each account and free rations for two months.

It also demanded a new policy under which migrant workers who wish to return to their home states and villages will be allowed to travel under strict conditions of health safety.

Most Congress chief ministers who participated in the meeting complained about a financial crunch and the Centre’s reluctance to assist.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “It is necessary to focus on a number of issues.... The fight against Covid-19 would very much depend upon the availability of resources.... The success of the lockdown is to be judged finally on our ability to tackle Covid-19.... Cooperation between the Centre and the states is the key to success.”

Rahul Gandhi said addressing the issues of the migrant workers was the first priority.

“The lockdown is a mere pause button. As a nation, we need to think of a transition from a complete lockdown to lockdowns only in disease hot zones and the commencement of activities in green zones,” he said.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said compassion was the key and no demonstration of hostility towards the victims could be allowed.

“As time passes, we need to permit migrant workers to return home after due testing and precautions,” she said.

Former finance minister P. Chidambaram said: “There are three major issues: 1. The finances of the states are in dire straits; they need urgent assistance. 2. The state of the health infrastructure needs to be addressed. 3. A humane policy for the return of migrant workers needs to be put in place.”

Ahmed Patel regretted the Centre’s poor preparations in all spheres – medical, financial and humanitarian.

A.K. Antony urged the Congress to continue working as a watchdog and force course corrections.

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