Sonia Gandhi supports lockdown, demands direct cash transfer of Rs 7,500 to poor

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

Expressing concern over the potential impact of the 21-day lockdown among the poor, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to implement direct cash transfers of Rs 7,500 to the bank accounts of Jan Dhan, PM Kisan Yojana, MGNREGA beneficiaries, among others.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Gandhi also suggested the distribution of 10 kg of rice or wheat per family member to every ration card holder through the Public Distribution System at free of cost.

"The 21-day ‘nation-wide lockdown’ announced by you as a measure to fight the coronavirus is a welcome step. As President of the Indian National Congress, I would like to state that we will support and collaborate fully with every step taken by the Union Government to ensure the containment of the pandemic," the letter read.

Seeking relief for the salaried class, the party interim chief also suggested deferment of payment of EMIs for a period of six months. "The interest being charged by the banks for this period may consequently be waived. Similarly, all loan installment deductions from the salary of government employees may also be deferred for six months," she said in the letter.

"All businesses, particularly the Micro, Small & Medium businesses, have been facing unprecedented distress from before the onset of the pandemic. The pandemic has increased their distress multi-fold. The Union Government must consider announcing a comprehensive sector-wise relief package including necessary tax breaks, interest subvention and deferment of liabilities," she added.

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Gandhi also referred to the harvesting season and urged the Prime Minister to "suspend all recoveries from farmers for a period of six months and to consider indebtedness relief liberally".

"With nearly 60% of India’s population being economically dependent on agriculture, it is imperative that the Union Government should take necessary steps to enable harvesting and procurement of crops at MSP," she said.

The lower income groups are likely to be hit the most due to the 21-day lockdown. (Express photo/Prashant Nadkar)

With soaring coronavirus cases across the country, the Congress leader also emphasised the need to arm the medical professionals with ‘Personal Protection Equipment’ to prevent them from contracting the infection.

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"Let us ensure the opening and scaling up of manufacture and supply of these items so that not a single health professional faces the predicament of contracting or passing on COVID-19 owing to unavailability of ‘Personal Protection Equipment’. Announcing a special 'Risk Allowance' for doctors, nurses and health workers for a period of six months retrospectively from the 1st of March 2020, is imperative. Health Professionals and their support teams risk their lives to work at the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. I believe we owe it to them to provide every protection and incentive we can," she said.

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Customers maintain social distance while purchasing items outside a store at C R Park in New Delhi. (Express photo/Tashi Tobgyal)

To spread awareness on the virus and health infrastructure, Gandhi said all information pertaining to the location of hospitals among other should be disseminated by the government through one platform.

"Given that even the most advanced and developed healthcare systems in the world are facing an overload of patients and crumbling under the weight of the sheer numbers of affected persons, the Union Government could immediately commission and begin construction of temporary facilities with large numbers of ICUs and ventilators in geographical areas where the outbreak is expected to be concentrated in the near future," the letter read.

"Mr. Prime Minister, if implemented, these measures will reaffirm our commitment to each and every one of our citizens when they most need support and protection. We in the Congress Party stand with the people of India at this time of national crisis and we extend to the government, our full support and cooperation," she added.

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