Congress to Centre: Give NYAY to poor
The Congress on Wednesday demanded the immediate implementation of NYAY, the minimum income guarantee scheme promised by the party in its 2019 election manifesto, to help the poor overcome the financial hardships caused by the lockdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“The Congress demands implementation of NYAY and Rs 7,500 be transferred to every Jan Dhan account, every PM Kisan account, every pension account,” Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala tweeted.
He demanded the dispersal of free ration through the public distribution system, a relief package for farmers and the suspension of loan recovery, in addition to a comprehensive plan for day labourers, MGNREGA workers, factory workers, fishermen and farm labourers.
Senior spokesperson P. Chidambaram, who is part of the communications department headed by Surjewala, came up with a different set of demands. The former minister issued a statement enlisting a 10-point plan without any mention of NYAY, and the amount he wanted transferred to the Jan Dhan account was Rs 6,000, not the Rs 7,500 mentioned by Surjewala. It was difficult to guess whether social distancing in view of the virus caused the anomalies or there were differences among senior leaders.
Chidambaram’s demands were more structured and elaborate. He tweeted: “Double the amount paid/payable under PM-KISAN (to Rs 12,000) and transfer the additional amount immediately to the bank account of each beneficiary. Bring tenant farmers under PM-KISAN (scheme). Take the lists from the state governments and transfer Rs 6,000 + Rs 6,000 (in two installments) to the bank account of each tenant farmer. Take the lists of registered MGNREGA workers and transfer a sum of Rs 3,000 to the bank account of each beneficiary.”
The veteran leader added: “Offer to every ration card holder, through the ration shops, 10kg of rice or wheat absolutely free, as a one-time measure in the next 21 days. Arrange for home delivery. Ask all registered employers (registered under any law) to maintain current levels of employment and wages. Guarantee to such employers who do so that the wages of the employees will be reimbursed by the government within 30 days of payment.”
His other demands included: “Open a register in every ward or block and invite persons who have not received payment under any of the categories listed above to register their name, address and Aadhaar. Street people and destitute will fall under this category. After minimal verification, open a bank account in each name (if there is not already one), seed it with Aadhaar and transfer Rs 3,000 into each bank account.
“Extend the deadlines for payment of any kind of tax until 30 June 2020. In the interim, banks can be instructed to lend to panchayats, municipalities and corporations against the security of the tax receivables.”
Chidambaram also demanded that banks be instructed to extend the dates of any kind of EMI payment till June 30, and that GST rates be slashed by 5 per cent on all wage goods, essential goods and services, and all items of mass consumption from April 1 and June 30. He concluded that many other challenges would have to be addressed in the coming days.
Interestingly, even the tenor of Chidambaram’s statements was not in tune with Surjewala’s tough posturing. While Chidambaram hailed the steps taken to fight the virus and called the Prime Minister the “commander” of the battle, Surjewala supported the restrictions but also questioned the government’s initial and current actions to counter the pandemic.
Chidambaram said in one of the tweets: “The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday of a nationwide 21-day lockdown is a watershed moment in the battle against COVID 19. We should put behind us the debates that took place before March 24 and look upon the nationwide lockdown as the beginning of a new battle in which the people are the foot soldiers and the PM is the Commander. We owe a duty to extend our total support to the Prime Minister and the central and state governments.”
Surjewala, on the other hand, said: “India will adhere to the lockdown. But what steps did the government take to tackle the corona pandemic despite early warnings in February? When will doctors, nurses and health workers have adequate protection?”
“How many ‘isolation beds’ & ventilators are available and where? The crying need is to arm our doctors, nurses and health workers with personal protection equipment, but why are N-95 masks, hazmat suits not available? 84 days after the spread of Covid-19, the government banned export of ventilators, respiratory devices and sanitisers. Is this your modus operandi to fight the coronavirus?”
Parliamentarian Rahul Gandhi demanded the setting up of massive temporary hospitals with ICU facilities in urban areas and large-scale tests for the coronavirus. He iterated the Congress’s demand for a financial package, including cash transfers, without specifying the amount.