This is prime minister's first interaction with floor leaders, including those from the Opposition, after the imposition of the nationwide lockdown on March 25. (Source: ANI)
Cutting across party lines, floor leaders of political parties on Wednesday asked the Centre to announce more financial relief measures, economic stimulus package, ramp up testing for COVID-19, release all dues including GST compensation to states and called for procurement of rabi crops from farmers.
In their video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, some also raised the Tablighi Jamaat issue, and asked the government to ensure that there is no communalisation.
Representing the Congress, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad drew Modi’s attention to reports of shortage of personal protective equipment for medical staff and asked the government to focus on providing adequate PPEs and insurance cover to frontline health workers.
He asked the government to conduct extensive testing and make it free of cost. He demanded doubling and tripling of BSL 2 and BSL 3 laboratory facilities.
Azad suggested a targeted and sector-wise approach. “The government should focus more on areas where there are more cases… divide such areas into sectors,” he said.
Azad, along with several other leaders, demanded more relief, like free ration, for workers in distress. He suggested that MGNREGA workers be involved in harvesting of rabi crops, which will help them as well as farmers.
Sources said NCP chief Sharad Pawar raised the Tablighi Jamaat issue and told the PM that communalisation would be unfortunate and the incident should not be given too much attention now.
Sources said the issue of suspension of MPLADS funds also came up during the discussion. Regional parties like the Trinamool Congress, DMK and YSR Congress suggested that the MPLADS fund should be directly transferred to the states so that they can use it according to their requirements.
“It is only through the MPLADS fund that MPs are able to fulfil the demands of people of their constituencies,” DMK’s T R Baalu said. To cut government expenditure, Baalu suggested that the Central Vista project should be suspended for now, sources said.
BJD’s Pinaki Mishra said the relief package announced by the Centre was inadequate. “All other countries are putting in at least 10 per cent of their GDP. America has committed $ 2.3 trillion package. We are a $ 2.7 trillion economy… the bare minimum we should put in is about Rs 17-18 lakh crore… there is going to be massive amount of refinancing required… massive amount of moratoriums and loan write-offs required. You have to put money in the states’ kitty,” he said. He asked the government not to focus on the fiscal deficit barriers.
The issue of allowing export of drugs like hydroxychloroquine was also raised by some parties. YSRCP leader V Vijayasai Reddy is learnt to have said that before allowing such export, the government should assess whether the country has adequate stock.
Pawar and Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut also spoke about interference of Governors in the administrative work at the district level. Both pointed out that there is a protocol by which the Governor’s office can get information from the district level.
Several leaders urged the government to announce steps to help farmers harvest their crops. Azad demanded a hike in the Minimum Support Price and an increase in procurement of crops. He said farm loan repayment should be deferred for six months, and asked the government to do away with GST on fertilisers, pesticides and agricultural equipment like tractors. He also asked the government to include some chief ministers in the task force set up by the Centre to ensure coordination by central government and states.
Several leaders asked the government to release dues of states under various heads, including for MGNREGA. Azad also asked the government to restart factories which produce essential goods and commodities, including medicines and agricultural equipment. “If there is no production, how can the supply chain be maintained,” he said.
“The issue of lockdown was discussed. We gave suggestions… Right now, social distancing is the only way to avoid the spread. The lockdown should be continued if necessary, till the situation is completely under control,” said Lok Janshakti Party president Chirag Paswan.
“The entire meeting was held in a very positive environment… Everyone lauded the firm steps taken by the Prime Minister. The leaders across political parties appreciated the way the Prime Minister took the lockdown decision. They promised to support the Prime Minister in future also. I, on behalf of my party, want to assure that whatever steps the Prime Minister takes in future to check the spread of this pandemic, the Lok Janshakti Party will fully support him,” he said.
CPI(M)’s Elamaram Kareem asked the government to immediately transfer Rs 5,000 to all Jan Dhan accounts, BPL and unorganised workers, provide 35 kg foodgrain per family to all migrant workers and the poor, declare harvest of standing crops as an essential service, ease restrictions for farmers and provide harvesting equipment and free seeds for the coming season. He also asked the government to deploy rapid testing kits on a large scale across the country.
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