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Rahul offers solidarity & suggestions to PM

Approach that takes the complex realities of our people into consideration: Rahul
Rahul Gandhi

Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 29.03.20, 09:20 PM

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to follow a nuanced approach to the lockdown while arranging for the basic needs of the poor and setting up temporary structures to deal with the rising number of patients.

In letter to the Prime Minister, Rahul said: “It is important that the government consider a nuanced approach that takes the complex realities of our people into consideration. Our priority must be to protect and isolate the elderly and vulnerable from the virus and to clearly and strongly communicate to the young the dangers of proximity to older people.”

He said: “Millions of India’s elderly live in villages. A complete lockdown and the resulting shut down of our economic engine will almost certainly ensure that millions of unemployed youth rush back to their villages, increasing the risk of infecting their parents and the elderly population living there. This will result in a catastrophic loss of life.”

Although the Congress has been extremely critical of the government’s lack of planning before announcing the lockdown and Rahul had described the approach towards the migrant workers as “criminal”, he avoided using an accusatory tone in the letter.

“We must immediately strengthen the social safety net and use every public resource we have to support and shelter the working poor. Large population centres will require big dedicated hospitals with thousands of beds and ventilators. It is critical that we start setting up these structures and manufacturing the equipment that would be required, as fast as is humanly possible,” Rahul said.

Stressing the need for dramatically increasing the number of tests to get an accurate picture of the spread of the virus, the Congress MP said: “The sudden lockdown has created immense panic and confusion. Factories, small industries and construction sites have closed, tens of thousands of migrant labourers are trying to walk home to their villages and are stranded at various state borders. They are struggling to reach faraway homes and seek refuge. It is important that we help them find shelter and provide them with money directly into their bank accounts to help them tide over the next few months.”

He suggested protection of key financial and strategic institutions, saying: “Our informal economy and immense network of small and medium businesses and farmers are going to be vital to any rebuilding effort. It is crucial that we engage them in a conversation, build their confidence and protect their interests with correct and timely action.”

He expressed solidarity with the government “when our nation is facing an immense humanitarian crisis” and offered full cooperation while apprehending that the period of lockdown may have to be extended.

Former finance minister P. Chidambaram described the financial package as “timid” and said: “The government has been behind the curve, but I will give them the benefit of doubt. But there is absolutely no excuse for not putting money in the hands of the poor people immediately. If the government does not announce a second financial package by Monday, it will be guilty of gross negligence and incompetence.”

Chidambaram added: “The government must also heed the appeals of chief ministers and provide generous grants-in-aid to the state governments. The central government has the sole privilege and right of creating (printing) money. State governments do not. Since more money is needed, Centre must provide the money to the states. Some economists and I have also suggested methods to reach the money to at least 90 per cent of the poor, including destitutes. I am sure the Economic Advisory Council can produce a plan in 24 hours to locate the resources and methods to reach the money to the poor. What are the PMO and Finance Minister waiting for when a tragedy is unfolding before our eyes?”

Party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi pointed to a complete lack of planning by the government.

Addressing a media conference via video conferencing, Singhvi said: “Just like demonetisation, this is completely mismanaged. The government didn’t plan, didn’t take into account the whole gamut of repercussions and fallouts of total lockdown and made the announcement without giving enough time to prepare. He also pointed out that the government’s package was barely 0.5 per cent of the GDP while the US had announced a plan that was 15 per cent of its GDP.”

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