New Delhi, Apr 17 (PTI) With the country witnessing a massive rise in COVID-19 cases, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday accused the Modi government of 'gross unpreparedness' and 'adhocism' in managing the crisis and suggested reducing the immunization age to 25 years and providing income support to people.
Chairing the meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), she also called for making all equipment, medicines and instruments required for treating COVID-19 free of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The Congress has always believed that fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is a national challenge that should be kept above party politics and it hopes suggestions put forth would be considered in the spirit of true democratic traditions, she said.
Accusing the Centre of giving preferential treatment to some states, Gandhi said it maintains 'thundering silence' on requests of states ruled by the Congress and other opposition parties.
'Taking on these challenging times as Indians rather than as political opponents will be true Rajadharma,' she said at the meeting.
A record single-day rise of 2,34,692 cases and 1,341 fatalities have pushed India's COVID-19 tally to 1,45,26,609 and the death toll due to the viral disease to 1,75,649, the health ministry said on Saturday. The number of active coronavirus cases in the country has surpassed the 16-lakh mark.
Considering that India has one of the highest infection rates, she also asked whether the export of vaccines should be held back and priority be given to protect Indians.
'How is boasting about our generosity to other countries going to help thousands of our people who are dying,' she said.
Gandhi said that the Congress has extended hands of cooperation since February-March last year. 'We cannot, however, lose sight of the fact that the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the country with fury. Despite a year to prepare, we have, regrettably, been caught off guard again,' she said.
Instead of listening to the constructive suggestions of the opposition, Union ministers are pressed into service to attack leaders of opposition for giving those suggestions, Gandhi said.
'This convoluted 'me versus you' debate is childish and totally unnecessary,' she asserted.
Gandhi said she recently held discussions with chief ministers of Congress-ruled states and with ministers, where Congress is in alliance government, to take stock of the emergent situation from them.
'What transpired was, the gross unpreparedness and avoidable adhocism on part of the Narendra Modi government in foreseeing, evaluating and managing the crisis,' the Congress chief said.
'But there has been thundering silence on the part of the government. On the contrary some other states have received preferential treatment or relief,' she said.
Making a host of suggestions to the government, Gandhi said the Centre must also reconsider its priority of candidates for vaccination.
The government should reduce the immunization age to 25 years and above as also all younger persons with at-risk health disorders like asthma, angina, diabetes, kidney and liver diseases and other similar ailments should be included as beneficiaries, she suggested.
Currently, Indians only above the age of 45 years are eligible to take vaccines and the government has said that it will slowly make vaccines available to other age groups.
'In the course of my talks with our chief ministers, the question of GST came up. They felt that as a preliminary measure, all equipment, instruments, medicines and support required to prevent and treat COVID-19 should be made free from GST,' Gandhi said.
It is a matter of grave concern that life saving drugs like Remdesivir and medical oxygen as also other basic supplements are subjected to 12 per cent GST, the Congress chief said.
'As the central and state governments move ahead to control the situation by resorting to partial curfews, travel restrictions, closure and lock downs; we will again be restricting economic activity that will hit the already beleaguered people, especially the poor and the daily wagers,' she said.
It is, therefore, imperative to provide monthly income support and transfer an amount of Rs 6,000 in every eligible citizen's account, Gandhi said.
She also alleged that after months of denial, the central government has now given emergency use authorization for vaccines developed elsewhere, noting that it is 'better late than never'.
The Congress chief also expressed her profound grief and sorrow to the families who lost their loved ones over the past year to the pandemic.
'Their pain and anguish is our pain and anguish,' she said.
She also reiterated the deep sense of gratitude to and support for health and frontline workers and the medical fraternity who have been rendering their service in the face of severe pressures and risks.
'We salute their sense of duty and dedication,' Gandhi said.
The CWC meet was also attended by former party chief Rahul Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, general secretaries, other permanent invitees and state in-charges of the party, who put forth different suggestions for dealing with the pandemic. PTI ASK/SKC ANB ANB ANB