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Centre has no solutions to economic crisis, no empathy for poor, says Sonia Gandhi

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on May 22, 2020 Published on May 22, 2020

A file photo of Congress president Sonia Gandhi   -  PTI

The Congress president said that 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.

At a meeting of 22 Opposition parties in New Delhi on Friday, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi accused the Centre of not having a strategy to exit from the lockdown.

She said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a grand ₹20-lakh-crore package has turned out to be a “cruel joke” on the country. She reiterated the demand to transfer cash to the poor, distribute free foodgrains to all families, arranging buses and trains for the migrant workers to go back home.

 

She said the country was facing an economic crisis even before the first coronavirus cases were identified. “Demonetisation and a hasty and flawed GST were amongst its main causes. The economic downturn began in 2017-18. Seven quarters of declining GDP growth was no ordinary event; it was unprecedented. Yet, the government carried on with its misguided policies and incompetent governance,” she said.

Economy down, cases up

“Even when the lockdown was imposed on March 24, with barely four hours’ notice, all of us supported the decision despite its suddenness and the obvious unpreparedness of the government. The initial optimism of the Prime Minister that the war against the virus would conclude in 21 days has turned out to be misplaced,” the UPA chairperson said.

She said the government was uncertain about the criteria for lockdown, 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,” she added.

 

The economy has been gravely crippled, she said. “Every economist of repute had advised an immediate massive fiscal stimulus. The Prime Minister’s announcement on May 12 of a grand ₹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 added.

The Raebareli MP said 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 homes.

Catastrophic consequences

“Apart from 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 organised industries, including the large businesses, that drive our country’s growth,” she added.

She said the Opposition’s 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. There is not even a pretence of consultation with stakeholders or debate in Parliament. We deplore these unilateral moves. A number of renowned economists are predicting that 2020-21 will end with negative growth of up to minus 5 per cent. The consequences will be catastrophic,” she warned.

She said the present government has no solutions and that it has no empathy or compassion for the poor and vulnerable is heartbreaking. “It has also abandoned any pretence of being a democratic government. All power is now concentrated in one office, the PMO. The spirit of federalism which is an integral part of our Constitution is all but forgotten. There is no indication either if the two Houses of Parliament or the Standing Committees will be summoned to meet,” she added. The meeting passed a resolution urging the Centre to declare the cyclone Amphan as a national calamity and demanded substantial help for the States in dealing with its impact. 

Published on May 22, 2020
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