New Delhi: As COVID-19 positive cases climbed to 600 amid a country-wide lockdown, the National Democratic Alliance government on Thursday finally announced a Rs 1.75 lakh crore package, through food and cash transfer to migrant labour, farmers, disabled among others.
While the much-delayed package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was welcomed by all, many also expressed apprehension that it was ‘too little and too late’ to prevent community spread of the virus, as lakhs of lives had already been uprooted due to the 21-day lockdown, leaving hungry and penniless families walking miles to reach their homes and crowding shelters for food.
In a statement, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sitaram Yechury said the package announced by the Narendra Modi government was “inadequate” and would “defeat the entire purpose of stopping community spread” of the novel coronavirus.
Cautioning the government that the country had “no time to waste,” Yechury accused the Centre of uprooting lakhs of lives by declaring a 21-day lockdown without adequate planning despite the fact that it had been warned of the disaster in making at least two months ago.
It may be recalled that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had flagged the dangerous impact of the virus on India’s people and its economy as early as in February. The first positive case in India was reported in January, by which time it had been spreading fast across the world.
Asking the Centre not to be “pre-occupied” with the fiscal deficit at this time, Yechury said: “If Rs 7.78 lakh crore worth of loans of the rich can be waived off, then clearly there is no dearth of resources.The priority is to save human lives and defeat the pandemic.”
Read the CPI(M) general secretary’s full statement below:
The Rs 1.75 lakh crore package announced today missed out on a crucial issue of the migrant workers returning to their own states. We have airlifted Indians from many countries abroad, surely our own brethren should have been provided with food and shelter, to either stay where they are currently or to be transported to their home states.
This failure is defeating the purpose of this 21-day lockdown when big crowds are surging, threatening ‘community-spread’. This should be remedied at once.
Though there are some proposals that merit worth like the provision of doubling food-grains, the provision of free gas cylinders for three months, a one-kg per family of pulses is thoroughly inadequate. The key to resist COVID-19 is good nutrition. This does not serve the purpose.
The announcement to give Rs 1000 to aged widows and the disabled is too little. All of them need help and assistance to go about their lives. How will Rs 1000 suffice?
The insurance cover for health workers come at no cost to the government. There is no clarity if this covers the private sector. What they require immediately is protective gear, medicines and adequate testing facilities. There is no mention of this.
Government has announced that each farmer would be given Rs 2000. But this is the first instalment that is due to them, under the PMKY (PM KISAN Yojana), announced just before 2019 polls.
The transfer of Rs 500 to Jandhan accounts held by women is too inadequate. We had asked for a direct transfer of Rs 5000 for each month for the next three months, for all Jandhan account-holders and BPL families.
There is no substantial benefit for Workers. The 24% of monthly wages into their own Provident Fund (PF) accounts does not give them any extra relief - this is their due, their own savings!
WHAT GOVERNMENT MUST DO NOW
Hunger and malnutrition can be contained through the provision of ration kits to all the poor, particularly the families of children availing the mid-day meal scheme. Kerala is doing this.
In the face of large-scale layoffs and retrenchment, the government must guarantee the payment of wages for the next three months at the very least.
Farmers must get a one-time waiver on their loans.
This is the harvesting season. Produce must be guaranteed to be lifted at the declared minimum support prices at least and farmers helped to harvest safely. This must be a priority.
For the middle-classes, especially employees, relief should be provided by a moratorium on repayment of loans and the deferring of EMIs.
Credit-availability to self-help groups means nothing for the 6.85 crore households in the country as all their activities have come to a standstill. Help them with money to survive and be healthy.
The enhancement of the MNREGA wages by Rs 20 is a joke. Currently there is no work going on. What they need is direct cash transfers, or payment of wages irrespective of work.
Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan, too, was critical of the package for the raw deal to farmers.
“It is shocking that the Finance Minster attempted to disguise the existing entitlement of famers under PM-KISAN to receive Rs.2000/- in April 2020 as a new relief and the mislead the nation. Even if there was no pandemic in India, farmers would have received this sum of Rs.2000/- in April 2020, Yadav, Founder of Jai Kisan Andolan, said in a statement.
Avik Saha, National Convenor, Jai Kisan Andolan, said: “ It has to be kept in mind that March-April is the period when farmers derive their half-yearly income which sustains them for the next 6 months, before the monsoon crops are ready for harvest and sale. It is surprising that the government considers the speculative stock market operation vital for economy and therefore protected from lockdown but considers production of food as secondary and therefore undeserving of any attention.”