Coronavirus: Congress says govt package modest, CPM calls Rs 20 hike in MGNREGA pay a ‘joke’

coronavirus economic package, coronavirus package for poor, food subsidy, coronavirus india news, coronavirus covid-19, pm garib kalyan scheme, india lockdown

A Delhi constable provides hand sanitiser to a child at a slum area in Rangpuri on Thursday. (Express photo/Amit Mehra)

Hours after the Centre announced a financial assistance package for the poor, unorganised workers and those who need immediate help amid the 21-day lockdown, the Congress and the CPM on Thursday called the measures announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman “inadequate” and “too little, too late”.

While former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi called the package ‘the first step in the right direction”, senior party leader P Chidambaram only gave it a “cautious welcome”. Congress leader Anand Sharma said he “broadly” supports the action plan.

The party’s communications department head Randeep Surjewala asked the government to revise the package, and said the quantities of free rice and wheat announced for the poor are insufficient. He also asked the government to declare harvesting and procurement as essential services.

Also read | Decoding PM Garib Kalyan relief package

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the package is inadequate.

Extending a “cautious welcome” to the plan, Chidambaram said, “It is a modest plan. In due course, (the) government will realise that it must do more. The plan gives adequate additional foodgrain to the poor for three months, and that is welcome (but) the plan does not put enough cash in the pockets of the poor. Some sections have been left out.

“Our estimate of (the additional money that will be transferred including the value of the grain and pulses) is Rs 1 lakh crore. Necessary but not sufficient at all. 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 added.

Sharma said, “It is reassuring for the poor and those who have lost their jobs and wages. I request the Prime Minister to increase MGNREGA wages to Rs 300, as the hike announced is very little to give the desired benefit.”

Yechury termed the enhancement of MNREGA wages by Rs 20 a “joke”. He said, “Currently there is no work going on. What they need is direct cash transfers, or payment of wages irrespective of work.”

Calling it “too little, too late”, Surjewala said: “Farmers have now been offered a sum of Rs 2,000 through PM-Kisan accounts on April 1. But Mr Prime Minister, farmers are supposed to be paid a sum of Rs 6,000 under the PM-Kisan scheme as per your own announcement earlier. why cut Rs 4,000 now.” He demanded farmers be paid Rs 6,000 on April 1.

Arguing that around 334 lakh hectares of wheat crop is ready for harvest, Surjewala said farmers are facing a problem, as all grain markets are shut and Food Corporation of India has not come forward for procurement. “Gunny bags are not available for the farmer. How should the farmer harvest the crop and take it to the market. If harvesting is delayed till April 15, farmers will lose 40 per cent of the standing crop from which he will never be able to recover,” he said, asking the government to “declare harvesting and procurement operations as part of essential services”.

Yechury demanded that farmers be given a one-time waiver on their loans. He sought direct transfer of Rs 5,000 for each month for the next three months for all Jan Dhan account holders and BPL families.

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