Congress President Sonia Gandhi criticised the Narendra Modi government over its handling of the situation arising out of COVID-19 pandemic, saying the 21-day national lockdown was necessary, but the “unplanned manner” in which it was implemented has caused grave hardship to migrant workers across the country. Addressing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee held to discuss the measures taken to deal with the coronavirus threat, Gandhi also asked the Centre to come out with a Common Minimum Relief Programme to alleviate the problems faced by the people due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
“The 21-day national lockdown may have been necessary, but the unplanned manner in which it has been implemented has caused chaos and pain in the lives of millions of migrant workers all over India,” she said. “It has been heartbreaking to see lakhs of people walking for hundreds of kilometres towards their villages without food or shelter. It is the duty of us all to do our utmost to lessen their suffering,” she said at the meeting held via video-conferencing.
Gandhi, who has written several letters to Prime Minister Modi with her party's suggestions on the steps that need to be taken to contain the spread of COVID-19, said, “I urge the Central government to prepare and publish a Common Minimum Relief Programme. This is vital and will help alleviate several of the concerns that currently afflict all people.”
She reiterated her emphasis on the need to ramp up testing. “There is no alternative to constant and reliable testing. This is the most effective way to combat it,” she said. The Congress has been stressing that the testing protocol being followed by the government is not sufficient in tracking down the infected and containing the disease. Gandhi said the Centre and state governments need to ensure that doctors, nurses and health workers are provided Personal Protection Equipment such as hazmat suits and N-95 masks on a war footing. She said equally important are ventilators and breating equipment, isolation beds and designated hospitals to treat COVID-19.
“The onus lies on governments to ensure that the spread of infection and casualties are not caused owing to lack of infrastructure or preparedness,” she said. She said the Centre should publish and make available details of designated hospitals, number of beds, quarantine and testing facilities, as well as information regarding the availability of medical supplies to the general public.
Gandhi sought relief for farmers, saying they urgently require the availability of fertilisers and pesticides, access to easy lines of credit, forward guidance in preparing for the planting of Kharif crop, and above all, proper remuneration prices.
With regard to medium and small scale enterprises, she said the livelihood of crores of our citizens has been imperilled, and the government needs to put in place a comprehensive strategy to manage the crisis. She also referred to the plight of the close to 90 per cent of the people in the unorganised sector.
Noting that the middle class too is vulnerable, she said wage cuts, job losses across the sectors of economy, and high petrol, diesel and gas prices had affected it. She said the deferrment of EMIs was hardly any relief as no interest subvention has been provided.
She asked the Congress governments, frontal organisations, and party leaders and workers to step forward and offer their help to those families who are at extreme risk. “Immediate measures to guarantee adequate shelter, food and medicines to them,” she said. “COVID-19 does not differentiate between political ideology, religion, caste, age or gender. The choices we make today will have a direct impact tomorrow on our family, neighbourhood, community, environment and nation. How effectively we meet this challenge, how we protect all sections of our society, specially the most vulnerable amongst us will define us for generations to come. Only if we act together in solidarity, will we overcome,” Gandhi said.