COVID-19 | Stop Foreign Visits, Suspend Central Vista: Sonia to PM

As India continues to reel under the coronavirus pandemic, the Congress party has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, 7 April, suggesting five concrete suggestions to help India combat the pandemic in a more efficient manner.

The suggested measures range from allotting the package meant for the Central Vista redevelopment plan, to channelising all the funds meant for PM-CARES to Prime Ministers National Relief Fund (PMNRF) for “efficiency, transparency, accountability.”

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Here’s Congress’ suggested five-point plan, which the letter states:

  • First, impose a complete ban on media advertisements — television, print and online — by the Government and Public Sectors Undertakings (‘PSU’s’) for a period of two years. The only exceptions should be advisories for COVID-19 or for issues relating to public health. Given that the Central Government currently spend an average of ₹1250 crores per year on media advertisements (not including an equal or greater amount spent by PSUs and Government companies), this will free up a substantial amount to alleviate the economic and social impacts of COVID-19.
  • Second, suspend the Rs 20,000-crore ‘Central Vista’ beautification and construction project forthwith. At a time like this, such an outlay seems self-indulgent to say the least. I am certain that Parliament can function comfortably within the existing historical buildings. There is no urgent or pressing requirement that cannot be postponed until this crisis is contained. This sum could instead be allocated towards constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnostics along with equipping our frontline workers with Personal Protection Equipment (‘PPE’s’) and better facilities.
  • Third, It makes sense to order a proportionate reduction of 30 percent in the expenditure budget (other than Salaries, Pensions and Central Sector Schemes) for the Government of India as well. This 30 percent (ie Rs2.5 lakh crores per year approximately) can then be allocated towards establishing an economic safety net for migrant workers, labourers, farmers, MSME’s and those in the unorganised sector.
  • Fourth, all foreign visits including that of the President, the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, State Ministers and Bureaucrats must be put on hold in a similar fashion. Exceptions can be made in case of special emergency or exigencies in national interest to be cleared by the PM. This amount (which is around ₹393 crores for just the Prime Minister and Union Cabinet’s trips in the last five years) can be utilised extensively in measures to combat COVID-19.
  • Fifth, transfer all money under ‘PM-CARES’ fund to the ‘Prime Ministers National Relief Fund’ (‘PM-NRF’). This will ensure efficiency, transparency, accountability and audit in the manner in which these funds are allocated and spent. It seems like a waste of effort and resources to have and create two separate silos for the distribution of funds. I understand that ₹3800 crores approximately are lying unutilised in the PM-NRF (at the end of FY2019). These funds, plus the amount in ‘PM-Cares’, can be utilised to ensure an immediate food security net for those at the very margins of society.

You can read the letter here as well:

Also Read: COVID-19 India: Death Toll Rises to 114, Number of Cases 4,421

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