Congress president Sonia Gandhi today wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, coming out in full support of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, even as she urged the Centre to roll out schemes for cash transfer and food security for the poor. She noted that her party's proposed minimum income guarantee scheme of NYAY was the need of the hour. “At this time of immense distress for the poor who are going to weather the major economic fallout of this pandemic, it will give them a basic economic resource to fall back on,” she said.
She said that, alternatively, a cash transfer of Rs 7,500 to every ‘Jan Dhan’ account holder, ‘PM KisanYojna’ account holder, all old-age/widow/differently abled person’s pension account, MGNREGA worker’s accounts, as a one-time special measure to tide over the lockdown period should be considered.
She suggested distribution of 10kg of rice or wheat per family member to every ration card holder through PDS free of cost as a special measure. “Daily wagers, MGNREGA workers, factory labour, construction and unorganised workers, fishermen, farm labourers and many more form the most vulnerable sections of our society. It has been recently reported that many businesses and companies are laying off and retrenching large numbers of regular and temporary employees. It would be in order for the Union government to immediately put in place broad based social protection measures including Direct Cash Transfer to these sections to tide over the period of difficulty,” she said.
She also asked the government to 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,” she said.
“The 21-day ‘Nation-wide Lockdown’ announced by you as a measure to fight the Coronavirus is a welcome step. As President of the Indian National Congress, I would like to state that we will support and collaborate fully with every step taken by the Union Government to ensure the containment of the pandemic,” Gandhi said in her letter.
This is the Congress president's third letter to Modi on the measures that need to be taken to contain the spread of Coronavirus. “It is in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation therefore, that I would like to suggest some measures that I believe will help us to address the massive health crisis we are about to face and to ameliorate the immense economic and existential pain that vulnerable sections of our society will soon be subjected to,” Gandhi wrote.
Gandhi urged the government to 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.
Referring to the allocation of Rs 15,000 crore for medical infrastructure to fight Coronavirus, she emphasised the urgent need to provide doctors, nurses and health workers with ‘Personal Protection Equipment’, including N-95 masks and hazmat suits.
She asked the government to ensure opening and scaling up of manufacture and supply of these items. She sought announcement of a special Risk Allowance for healthcare professionals for a period of six months retrospectively from March one 2020.
Among Gandhi's suggestions are creating a dedicated portal for sharing information on designated hospitals and their locations, number of beds, isolation chambers, ventilators, dedicated medical teams and medical supplies. For the salaried class, she said the government might consider deferring all EMIs for a period of six months. She said the interest being charged by the banks for this period may consequently be waived. Similarly, all loan installment deductions from the salary of government employees may also be deferred for six months, she suggested.
For businesses, particularly the Micro, Small & Medium businesses, Gandhi said the government must consider announcing a comprehensive sector-wise relief package including necessary tax breaks, interest subvention and deferment of liabilities.