New Delhi, May 22 : Slamming the NDA government at the Centre for its 'unpreparedness' in dealing with the threat of Coronavirus infection and ignoring the plight of migrants, farm labourers and the like, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday termed the Rs 20 lakh crore package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi 'a cruel joke on the country'.
Addressing a meeting of opposition parties, through video conferencing, on the situation arising out of the COVID-19 crisis, Ms Gandhi said the government was uncertain about the criteria for lockdowns and did not have an exit strategy and also stumbled badly on the testing strategy. 'The initial optimism of the Prime Minister that the war against the virus would conclude in 21 days has turned out to be misplaced. It seems that the virus is here to stay until a vaccine is found.
I am also of the view that the government was uncertain about the criteria for lockdowns, nor does it have an exit strategy. Successive lockdowns have yielded diminishing returns. The government also stumbled badly on the testing strategy and the import of test kits. Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to take its toll. The economy has been gravely crippled.
Every economist of repute had advised an immediate need for a massive fiscal stimulus. The Prime Minister’s announcement on May 12 of a grand Rs 20 lakh crore package - and the Finance Minister spelling out its details over the next five days, have turned out to be a cruel joke on the country,' she said in her opening remarks at the meeting. Ms Gandhi accused the government of ignoring the plight of migrant workers, farmers and landless agricultural workers; the laid off or retrenched workers and employees; the shopkeepers and the self-employed. 'The defining image of the pandemic has been the lakhs of migrant workers, many with children, walking hundreds of kilometres, without money, food or medicines, desperate to reach their home states. Apart from the plight of the migrant workers, those who have been cruelly ignored include the 13 crore families in the bottom half of the population, namely - the tenant farmers and landless agricultural workers; the laid off or retrenched workers and employees; the shopkeepers and the self-employed; the 5.8 crore out of the 6.3 crore MSMEs; and organized industries, including the large businesses, that drive our country’s growth,'she said.
The government has failed to respond to suggestions by opposition parties to transfer cash to the poor and distribute foodgrains to all poor families. 'Many of us like-minded parties had demanded that cash be transferred to the poor, that free grain be distributed to all families, that buses and trains must be arranged for the migrant workers to go back to their homes. We emphasised that Wage Assistance and Wage Protection Funds must be set up to protect the employees and the employers. Our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Far from offering succour and support, the government has embarked on a wild adventure of so called reforms including a grand clearance sale of PSUs and repeal of labour laws.