Coronavirus fight: Rahul Gandhi asks PM to devolve power, take states into confidence

New Delhi, May 8 (PTI) Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday exhorted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to devolve power and make the states partners in efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, contending that 'if we keep this fight in PMO, we will lose'.

Gandhi said there will be a 'calamity' if the fight against the novel coronavirus is centralised in the prime minister's office (PMO).

Addressing a press conference through video conference, he also asked the government to adopt transparency in its actions to tackle the coronavirus and work together with states and take them into confidence.

His remarks came after complaints by Congress-ruled states that they were being pushed into fiscal distress in the absence of the Centre providing them resources to fight the pandemic.

Gandhi also called upon the government to immediately put money into the hands of the poor and provide a financial package to the industry to help revive the economy amid the nationwide lockdown to combat the deadly virus.

He also called for having a migrant policy in place as also a lockdown exit strategy in consultation with states.

He said he was deeply disturbed and saddened by news of trains being cancelled and migrant workers forced to stay back in some states.

He said the decision to send back migrant workers has to be made with empathy while thinking about their rights and not crushing their rights, while no state can bully them.

'They are not bonded labour and should be allowed to travel home as per their own free will. After announcements of buses and trains, why are thousands still forced to walk back to their villages,' he asked.

He said the lockdown is not an 'on/off switch', but is a transition which requires cooperation of all -- the Centre, states, district magistrates and the people of India.

'We need to decentralise power in dealing with the virus. If we keep this fight in PMO, we will lose. The PM must devolve power. If we centralise, there will be a calamity. PM has to trust chief ministers and chief ministers have to trust district magistrates,' he said.

Gandhi also asked the government to tell the people what criteria it would use to open the lockdown or continue it post May 17, as the transition out of it is a serious challenge before the country.

The Congress MP said the government needs to work on a psychological change and if it has to open lockdown, it has to convert people's fear about the disease into confidence, as it is not deadly for most of them. Otherwise, even if you open the lockdown, people will not come out, he felt.

Gandhi also called for legislative oversight through committees in parliament and meetings should happen soon. He also called for an audit on PM Cares Fund. He also called for transparency on Aarogya Setu App, saying there are concerns over privacy.

Noting that the country is facing an emergency situation, the Congress leader said the idea of injecting immediately a sum of Rs 7,500 directly into the hands of poor is critical.

He said as the virus continues to spread across the country, he total lockdown has unleashed on India 'an economic tsunami of unimaginable proportions'.

The Congress leader said it is clear that 'we will not be able to get our economy moving again without a massive economic stimulus' from the government and most countries have already announced huge stimulus packages to help restart the economy.

'However in India, the government has been dragging its feet on announcing an economic package targeting vulnerable groups like farmers, migrant labourers and daily wage earners as well as industry clusters that have been severely damaged.

'The longer the Government delays announcing this package, the more the pain will grow and the tougher it will become to re-start the economy,' he said.

The former Congress president said the economic package is being delayed as the government feels India could be downgraded by international agencies.

'But, my sense is that you have got to take that risk, you have to move aggressively now, because if you do not control and defend the foundations of our economy, downgrade and all will not matter anymore. We have to start domestic consumption, we have to start the engine and I am sorry to say, we are losing time and the more time we lose, the worse the impact is going to be.' He said the Indian economy has stopped. 'You need to get the business system started otherwise we will have a catastrophe,' he noted.

'Don't dilly-dally, put money immediately into our people's hand.... We have to protect the job creators and have to build a wall for them to protect jobs and wages of workers. We have to give them financial support,' Gandhi said while calling for a financial package to the MSME sector as well as other industries.

He also made several suggestions, including providing Rs 7,500 to the poor that will entail a total expense of only Rs 65,000 crore, doubling of MGNREGA employment guarantee days to 200 from the current 100 a year, food security to the poor and vulnerable by providing them foodgrains.

The Congress leader hoped the government will give serious consideration to the suggestions by the Congress and incorporate them in the economic stimulus package, which should be announced without any further delay.

The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 1,886 and the number of cases climbed to 56,342 in the country on Friday. PTI SKC SMN SMN