Congress chief ministers are set to ask the prime minister to lift the lockdown completely, with the exceptions of Covid-19 ‘hotspots’, on May 18. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Friday that extending the lockdown further was economically unsustainable.
Gandhi did not give the example of the Swedish model of fighting Covid-19, but suggested a similar strategy for India of protecting those more vulnerable, such as the aged or those suffering from comorbidities. He said the rest should be "psychologically" prepared to exit the lockdown so that the economy can restart.
On the changes proposed in labour laws, Gandhi said some laws are being amended on the pretext of the current emergency situation, but his party will not allow permanent changes.
The former Congress president demanded a massive stimulus package for the poorest households, for farmers, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and also big businesses.
Gandhi attributed the delay in announcing of the package on the sense in the government that a large deficit will lead to downgrade of the rupee. “But I think the government needs to stop thinking about that, we must move quickly to protect the heart of our economy. My sense is that you have got to take that risk to defend the foundations of our economy, downgrade and all will not matter anymore,” he said. Gandhi said India is all about domestic consumption, which needs to start soonest.
Gandhi criticised centralization of decision making by the prime minister, sayig state governments or district magistrates should have classified zones, not the Centre.
He said migrant workers cannot be treated like bonded labour and restricted from returning home.
Gandhi said the SMEs should be given Rs 1 trillion ‘wage protection scheme’ and Rs 1 trillion ‘credit guarantee scheme’, along with six months' interest subsidy equal to six months of interest on loan taken by MSMEs.
Similar credit guarantees and interest subsidy facilities must be extended to big businesses as well, provided they support their ancillary/auxiliary units, Gandhi said. He said retail supply chains should be restored, except for hotspots, to bring relief to 7 crore shopkeepers across India.
On Thursday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had also urged the prime minister to come up an exit strategy from lockdown 3.0 that “clearly defines the way forward for the country’s economic revival”. In a letter to the PM, Singh had pointed to the enveloping economic crisis and job losses.
Gandhi said he was no expert, but it was uncertain if Covid-19 cases in India would peak, as some believe, by June or July. He said some other experts believe India might have to wait until September for the peak to be reached.
Gandhi said the total lockdown “has unleashed on India an economic tsunami of unimaginable proportions”. On exiting the lockdown, he said it requires a psychological shift in the minds of the people as the virus in in India is seen as very dangerous disease.
He said while this is true, the disease is dangerous for certain groups of people, like the old and those suffering from some other health problems, that is 1 to 2 per cent but other than that it is not a dangerous disease.
“The government, if it wants to open up, it has to turn this fear into a sense of confidence, otherwise you can open up but people will not come out,” Gandhi said.