Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said that the entire country is suffering owing to the fallout over the lockdown imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic, Mint reported. She claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government is yet to realise this.
In a five-minute video, Gandhi said that migrants walking home, people who lost their jobs, businesses, and livelihoods are the worst-hit during this crisis. The video is part of Congress’ “SpeakUp” campaign that aims to help raise the voice of the poor, migrants, small businesses and the middle class people. “The whole country suffered, but perhaps the government did not realise it,” she said.
The Congress chief said that for the last two months, the entire country has been going through a severe economic crisis. She added that Indians have been seeing pictures of millions of labourers walking barefoot, hungry and thirsty without any means, for the first time since Independence.
The lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus cases in the country was first imposed on March 25. It has since been extended thrice, and the fourth phase will end on May 31. Amid all of this, several migrant workers and their families were stranded with businesses being hit, and public transport suspended. Lakhs of migrants began walking home on foot, some for more than 1,000 km, and others travelled in private vehicles. Till May 26, the Railways had run over 3,500 Shramik Express trains carrying more than 48 lakh passengers. However, there were discrepancies in these operations, too, with no food and water being served, and nine people dying on these special trains.
Gandhi said that crores of jobs were lost, millions of businesses were destroyed, factories were shut and farmers had to sell their crops during the lockdown. “We request the union government to open the lock of treasury and give help to needy,” she said. She urged the Centre to help the needy and put direct cash of Rs 7,500 per month in the account of every family for the next six months and provide Rs 10,000 immediately, PTI reported. “Instead of loans, provide financial relief to small and medium industry so that crores of jobs are saved and the country progresses.”
Gandhi also asked the central government to ensure safe and free travel of labourers back home, employment opportunities and rations, and to increase the number of work days under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act to 200 days to generate employment in villages.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a Rs 20-lakh-crore package to help fight the economic crisis during the pandemic. The Centre said that the package is 10% of the Gross Domestic Product. However, analysts pointed out that a significant portion of that amount includes measures earlier announced, efforts by the Reserve Bank of India and calculations that assume economic activity even though the government’s actual expenditure is far smaller than the stated amount.
The Congress has been severely critical of the package, urging the Centre to rethink it. On May 22, Gandhi said the economic package was a “cruel joke on the country”. On May 18, Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram had claimed that package actually amounted to only Rs 1.86 lakh-crore, or 0.91% of the Gross Domestic Product. He said the package has left several sections of the society “high and dry”.