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Opposition welcomes coronavirus relief package, but won't give full marks

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the package on Thursday, which was hailed by PM Narendra Modi as one that will go a long way in ensuring food and livelihood security of the poor.

BS Web Team & PTI 

Nirmala Sitharaman
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman promised a one-time payment to women Jan Dhan accountholders and economically backward widows and pensioner | Photo: Dalip Kumar

The government's economic package, worth Rs 1.7 trillion, to ease the impact of the 21-day lockdown to stop the spread of was welcomed by opposition parties. However, they described it as "too little" and "inadequate".

Finance Minister announced the package on Thursday, which was hailed by PM as one that will go a long way in ensuring food and livelihood security of the poor.

"It is our firm resolve that the poor and vulnerable get all possible help to cope with the testing times," he tweeted.

However,Congress leader welcomed the Rs 1.7 trillion stimulus, saying it is the first step in the right direction, while, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury said it is was inadequate.

"The Govt announcement today of a financial assistance package, it is the first step in the right direction.India owes a debt to its farmers, daily wage earners, labourers, women & the elderly who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing lockdown," Gandhi said on Twitter.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala urged Modi to reconsider the package, saying "is it not too little".

"But, for heaven's sake, please, reconsider the package as also incorporate the suggestions that we are giving to you, not in a bipartisan or political fashion, but, in a spirit of cooperation and unity," he said.

The government announced the stimulus that included free foodgrain and cooking gas to the poor for three months, and cash doles to women and senior citizens as it looked to ease the economic impact of the nationwide lockdown which came into force on Wednesday.

"The Rs 1.75 lakh crore package announced today missed out on a crucial issue of the migrant workers returning to their own states," Yechury said in a statement.

"We have airlifted Indians from many countries abroad, surely our own brethren should have been provided with food and shelter, to either stay where they are currently or to be transported to their home states," he said.

Yechury pointed out that while some proposals in the package, such as provision of doubling food grains, free gas cylinders for three months, a one-kg of pulses per family, have some merit, but they were "thoroughly inadequate".

"The key to resist COVID-19 is good nutrition. This does not serve the purpose. The announcement to give Rs 1,000 to aged widows and the disabled is too little," he said. Yechuri also wrote a letter to PM Modi saying that, "Disappointed that no measures or relief announced for those who need the maximum support."

The BJP hailed the relief package saying it will help the poor, farmers and other needy sections of the society when the nation is on a 21-day lockdown to fight the pandemic. Party president J P Nadda said the prime minister has announced a "huge relief" for the poor in this hour of crisis, and asserted that it is the ruling party's resolve that nobody is left hungry.

Home Minister Amit Shah said the announcement shows the sensitivity of the government towards the poor and other vulnerable sections of society.

However, the Trinamool Congress said the Centre's financial package announced in the wake of a countrywide lockdown to combat has taken a "cue" from the one offered by the party-led dispensation in West Bengal.

"Centre takes cue from relief plans already rolled out by state government's like Bengal a week ago -- free 6 months ration for the poor, health insurance for champion frontliners fighting corona and Rs 1000 for daily wagers under new Prochesta scheme. Will supplement State efforts," tweeted TMC MP Derek O'Brien.

Congress' Surjewala said the farmer has been offered Rs 2,000 through 'PM Kisan' accounts on April 1, but farmers are supposed to be paid a sum of Rs 6,000 under the PM Kisan Yojana.

"Why cut Rs, 4,000 now? Kisan (the farmer) should be paid all Rs. 6,000 now on 1st April, 2020 and Sonia Gandhi had suggested a payment of Rs. 7,500 over and above the Rs. 6,000. We humbly request to consider it and how should the standing crop of the farmer be harvested is the principle question," he said.

Surjewala claimed that 334 lakh hectare of wheat is now ready to be harvested in India, including about 130 lakh hectare in Punjab, 93 lakh hectare in Haryana, 37 lakh hectare in Uttar Pradesh, about 68 lakh hectare in Madhya Pradesh and in other states, but all the grain markets are shut.

The Food Corporation of India has not come forward with procurement, he said, adding that no gunny bags are currently available for the farmers."Please declare harvesting and procurement operations as part of essential services," he said.

Surejwala also called for measures for the salaried class, demanding relief in EMIs by deferring them up to June 30 and waiving interest.

"Please give a sector wise package to them so that some relief come only then the health crisis of Corona and the economic pandemic of Corona, both need to be addressed simultaneously," he said.

Earlier Congress chief Sonia Gandhi also wrote to prime minister extending support to the lockdown but made several suggestions protection of doctors, easing supply chains and deferment of loans.

Congress leader Anand Sharma welcomed the relief package and urged the prime minister to increase the MGNREGA wages to Rs 300 as the hike announced is very little to give the desired benefit.

First Published: Thu, March 26 2020. 22:45 IST