Monday, 30th October 2017

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Congress to goverment: First right step, do more

Sonia demanded a comprehensive sector-wise relief package for small and medium businesses, including necessary tax breaks, interest subvention and deferment of liabilities

By Sanjay K. Jha in New Delhi
  • Published 27.03.20, 2:12 AM
  • Updated 27.03.20, 2:12 AM
  • 3 mins read
Sonia Gandhi Telegraph file picture

The Congress on Thursday welcomed as a good first step the government’s announcement of a relief package for the poor to help them through the lockdown but said it was grossly insufficient and needed to be revised.

After finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s press conference, in which she announced the relief measures, party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “The government announcement today of a financial assistance package is the first step in the right direction. India owes a debt to its farmers, daily wage earners, labourers, women & the elderly who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing lockdown.”

That the Opposition party believes the government has taken the first right step almost two months after the first case was reported in India can be seen as a stinging indictment, but the dominant feeling in the Congress is the government has finally understood the enormity of the crisis and started to look for solutions.

Former finance minister P. Chidambaram said: “I offer a cautious welcome. It is a modest plan. In due course, government will realise that it must do more. The plan gives adequate additional food grain to the poor for three months, and that is welcome. The plan does not put enough cash in the pockets of the poor. Some sections have been left out altogether.

“Our estimate of the additional money that will be transferred (including the value of the grain and pulses) is Rs 1 lakh crore. Necessary but not sufficient at all. You will notice that suggestions like help to tenant farmers and destitutes, maintaining current levels of employment and wages, tax deferment, EMI deferment, GST rate cut, etc. have not been addressed. Let’s hope there will be a Plan II shortly.”

The party’s communication chief Randeep Surjewala said: “Why only Rs 2,000 for farmers when they are anyway supposed to get Rs 6,000 under PM-Kisan scheme? We want Rs 7,500 over and above that Rs 6,000.

“Most critical is the harvesting season. The wheat crop has to be harvested on 334 lakh hectares; farmers can’t wait for the lockdown to be over. Declare harvesting as part of essential services and arrange for procurement.”

Party president Sonia Gandhi had earlier in the day written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying: “At this challenging and uncertain time, it is imperative for each one of us to rise above partisan interests and honour our duty towards our country and, indeed, towards humanity. It is in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation therefore, that I would like to suggest some measures….”

She suggested setting up a dedicated official portal on coronavirus crisis management, temporary hospitals with basic facilities, adequate personal protection equipment for health professionals, and financial packages for different sections of society.

Sonia said: “There has been much uncertainty about designated hospitals and their locations, number of beds, isolation chambers, ventilators, dedicated medical teams, medical supplies etc. A dedicated portal for sharing these and all other necessary information is one way forward.”

She continued: “Given that even the most advanced and developed healthcare systems in the world are facing an overload of patients and crumbling under the weight of the sheer numbers of affected persons, the government could immediately commission and begin construction of temporary facilities with large numbers of ICUs and ventilators in geographical areas where the outbreak is expected to be concentrated in the near future.”

Pointing out that the lockdown has come at the peak of the harvesting season, she said: “The government should take necessary steps to enable harvesting and procurement of crops at MSP. This is also the right time to suspend all recoveries from farmers for a period of six months and to consider indebtedness relief liberally. I believe implementing NYAY, the minimum income guarantee scheme is the need of the hour. Distribution of 10kg of rice or wheat per family member to every ration card holder through PDS free of cost as a special measure is also the need of the hour.”

For the salaried class, she said: “Government might consider deferring all EMIs for a period of six months. The interest being charged by the banks for this period may consequently be waived.”

She also demanded a comprehensive sector-wise relief package for small and medium businesses, including necessary tax breaks, interest subvention and deferment of liabilities.