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New Delhi, April 23, 2020
Congress President Sonia Gandhi today said all sections of society were facing acute hardship and distress in the extended nationwide lockdown but regretted that the compassion, large-heartedness and alacrity that should have been forthcoming from the Central Government was conspicuous by its absence.
Addressing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) through video-conferencing here, Gandhi said that, in the last three weeks the coronavirus pandemic had increased disturbingly, both in spread and speed.
The Government had, as part of the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, imposed a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from March 25 and then extended it by 19 days till May 3.
"The lockdown continues and all sections of our society continue to face acute hardship and distress -- particularly our kisans and khet mazdoors, migrant labour, construction workers and workers in the unorganized sector. Trade, commerce and industry have come to a virtual halt and crores of livelihoods have been destroyed," she said.
"The Central Government does not appear to have a clear idea on how the situation will be managed after May 3. A lockdown of the present nature after that date would be even more devastating," she said.
Gandhi said that, since the lockdown commenced, she had written several times to the Prime Minister.
"I offered our constructive cooperation and also made a number of suggestions to alleviate the suffering of both rural and urban families. These suggestions had been formulated on the basis of feedback we have been receiving from different sources, including our Chief Ministers. Unfortunately, they have been acted upon only partially and in a miserly way. The compassion, large-heartedness and alacrity that should be forthcoming from the Central Government is conspicuous by its absence," she said.
The Congress President said the focus must continue to be on successfully engaging with health, food security and livelihood issues.
She said the Congress had repeatedly told the Prime Minister that there was no alternative to the Testing, Tracing and Quarantine programme. She said that, unfortunately, testing still remained low and testing kits were still in short supply and of poor quality. She said Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits were being provided to doctors and healthcare workers, but the number and quality was poor.
Gandhi said entitlement of food grains under the National Food Security Act had not yet reached the beneficiaries. She said 11 crore people who are in need of subsidized food grains remained outside of the Public Distribution System. "It should be our commitment to provide 10 kgs of food grains, 1 kg of pulses and half a kg of sugar to each person of the family every month, in this hour of crisis," she said.
According to her, 12 crore jobs had been lost in the first phase of the lockdown. "Unemployment is likely to increase further as economic activity remains at a standstill. It is imperative to provide at least Rs 7,500 to each family to tide over this crisis," she said.
The Congress President said migrant labourers were still stranded, jobless and desperate to return home. "They have been hit the hardest. They must be provided with food security and a financial safety net in order to survive this period of crisis," she said.
She said farmers were facing serious difficulties, too, and the issues of weak and unclear procurement policies and disrupted supply chains needed to be addressed without delay. Necessary facilities must be made available to the farmers for the next round of Kharif crops which will begin in the coming two months, she said.
Gandhi pointed out that MSMEs employed close to 11 crore people today and accounted for one-third of the GDP. "If they are to be protected from economic ruin, it is imperative that a special package be announced urgently for their survival," she said.
"The states and local governments are the frontline of the battle against COVID-19. Funds legitimately owed to the states have been held back. I am sure our Chief Ministers will brief us on the difficulties they are facing," she said.
"Let me also share with you something that should worry each and every one of us Indians. When we should be tackling the coronavirus unitedly, the BJP continues to spead the virus of communal prejudice and hatred. Grave damage is being done to our social harmony. Our party, we will have to work hard to repair that damage," she said.
Gandhi said there were a few success stories and they should be applauded.
"Most of all, we should salute every single Indian leading the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic inspite of the absence of adequate personal protection equipment. The doctors, nurses, paramedics, health workers, sanitation workers and all other essential service providers, NGOs and the lakhs of citizens providing relief to the most needy all over India. Their dedication and determination truly inspire us all. I should also acknowledge the untiring and relentless efforts of not only the Congress state governments but equally of our party workers and volunteers across the country.
"I end by once again reiterating our party's commitment to extend our constructive support to the government," she added.