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New Delhi, April 7, 2020
Congress President Sonia Gandhi today wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting five measures to cut government expenditure so as to boost the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including suspension of the ambitious Central Vista project and a ban on government advertisements for two years.
Gandhi's letter has come a day after Modi called her and sought suggestions from her party to meet the grave challenge posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
"It is in this spirit that I write to you," she said, conveying her party's support for the decision taken by the Union Cabinet to reduce salaries for Members of Parliament by 30 per cent.
"Austerity measures which can be used to divert much-needed funds to the fight against COVID-19 are the need of the hour. I am writing to offer five concrete suggestions. I am certain you will find value in them," she said.
Gandhi called for a complete ban on media advertisements -- television, print and online -- by the Government and public sector undertakings (PSUs) for a period of two years. The only exceptions should be advisories for COVID-19 or for issues relating to public health, she said.
"Given that the Central Government currently spends an average of Rs 1250 crores per year on media advertisements (not including an equal or greater amount spent by PSUs and Government companies), this will freeup a substantial amount to alleviate the economic and social impact of COVID-19," she said.
The Congress President also suggested the suspension of the Rs 20,000 crore "Central Vista" beautification and construction project in the national captial forthwith.
"At a time like this, such an outlay seems self-indulgent, to say the least. I am certain that Parliament can function comfortably within the existing historical buildings. There is no urgent or pressing requirement that cannot be postponed until this crisis is contained. This sum could instead be allocated towards constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnostics along with equipping our frontline workers with Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) and better facilities," she said.
Ms Gandhi said it made sense to order a proportionate reduction of 30 per cent inthe expenditure budget (other than Salaries, Pensions and Central Sector Schemes) for the Government of India as well. This 30 per cent (Rs 2.5 lakh crore per year approximately) can then be allocated towards establishing an economic safety net for migrant workers, labourers, farmers, MSMEs and those in the unorganised sector.
She said all foreign visits including those of the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, State Ministers and bureaucrats must be put on hold. Exceptions can be made in case of special emergency or exigencies in national interest to be cleared by the Prime Minister. This amount can be utilised extnesively in measures to combat COVID-19, she said.
Ms Gandhi said all money under the newly set-up PM CARES Fund should be transferred to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF).
"This will ensure efficiency, transparency, accountability and audit in the manner in which these funds are allocated and spent. It seems like a waste of effort and resources to have and create two separate entities for the distribution of funds. I understand that Rs 3800 crores approximately are lying unutilised in the PMNRF (at the end of FY2019). These funds, plus the amount in PM CARES Fund, can be utilised to ensure an immediate food security net for those at the very margins of society," she said.
"Every single Indian has made great personal sacrifices to fight this disease. They have complied with every suggestion, instruction and decision taken by your office and the Central Government. It is time that the Legislature and the Executive reciprocate this trust and good faith.
"Please be assured that you have our unwavering support in meeting the grave challenge of COVID-19 facing the country," she added.