₹1.7 lakh crore relief package: First step in the right direction, says Rahul Gandhi

But Congress hopes the government will offer more

The Congress cautiously welcomed the ₹1.7 lakh crore package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi called it the “first” step in the right direction, but criticised the government for offering an insufficient cash transfer.

“The Govt announcement today of a financial assistance package, is the first step in the right direction. India owes a debt to its farmers, daily wage earners, labourers, women & the elderly who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing lockdown,” he wrote on Twitter.

In a series of tweets, former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram called it a “modest plan” and hoped that the government would realise that it should do more. “The plan does not put enough cash in the pockets of the poor. Some sections have been left out altogether,” he said. “You will notice that suggestions like help to tenant farmers and destitutes, maintaining current levels of employment and wages, tax deferment, EMI deferment, GST rate cut, etc. have not been addressed. Let’s hope there will be a Plan II shortly,” he said.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala pointed to many “lapses” in the package. He flagged the need for declaring grain procurement an essential service.

All grain markets are shut and the Food Corporation of India is not coming forward to procure.

“If the farmer is to delay harvesting till April 14, he will stand to lose 40% of the crop. A loss from which he will never recover,” he said.

The one-time cash help of ₹1,500 spread over three months to 20.4 crore women having Jan Dhan Yojana accounts was a paltry sum, he said. The Congress demanded waiver of all EMIs and the interest thereof for all salaried class up to June 30.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the package was inadequate and missed out on migrant workers. He said if the government could airlift Indians from foreign shores, it should have given these workers food and shelter or transport to their home States. He also criticised the government for offering just one kg of pulses a family. “The key to resisting COVID-19 is good nutrition. This does not serve the purpose,” he said.

He said the government had uprooted the lives of people without planning, despite a warning two months ago. “The enhancement of the MGNREGA wages by ₹20 is a joke. Currently there is no work going on. What they need is direct cash transfers, or payment of wages irrespective of work,” he said.

Mr. Yechury said ₹1,000 offered to the aged widows and the disabled and ₹500 for those with Jan Dhan Yojana accounts were too little. Instead, the government should have offered ration kits to all the poor, especially the families of children availing themselves of the mid-day meal scheme. “In the face of large-scale layoffs and retrenchment, the government must guarantee the payment of wages for the next three months at the very least,” he said.

CPI general secretary D. Raja said the package had ignored the poorest of the poor. “Only 80 crore persons have ration cards, what about those without ration cards? What about the homeless? What about the migrant workers? The package doesn’t offer anything to these categories,” he said.

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