On Friday, 22 opposition parties, led by the Congress, criticized the government at the Centre for “unabashedly” usurping powers of state governments and undermining the federal structure of the Constitution.
Three chief ministers, Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren, along with 30 other opposition leaders, attended the meeting held via videoconferencing.
At the end of the meeting, opposition parties issued an 11-point charter of demands. The opposition said, the “Rs 20 trillion package and its contents mislead the people of India”, and “demanded that the government present a revised and comprehensive package that will be a true fiscal stimulus in order to stimulate demand in the economy”.
The opposition demanded that the Centre “consult state governments while allowing international/domestic flights”.
Chief ministers and other leaders flagged how the Centre is using the Covid-19 crisis to intervene in the jurisdiction of the states, and using coronavirus as a smokescreen to dilute powers of the state, and also dilute civil liberties.
In her comments at the meeting, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi said the government has abandoned any pretence of being democratic, has no compassion for the poor and has embarked on a “wild adventure of so-called reforms including a grand clearance sale of public sector units”.
“All power is now concentrated in one office, the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office),” she said. Sonia Gandhi said the economy was “gravely crippled” even before Covid-19 because of demonetization and hurried rollout of a flawed GST, and every economist of repute has advised an immediate need for a massive fiscal stimulus.
But "the Prime Minister's announcement of a grand Rs 20 trillion package - and the Finance Minister spelling out its details over the next five days - have turned out to be a cruel joke on the country,” she said.
Notable absentees from the meeting were the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). While the SP and BSP were invited and decided to skip the meeting, the AAP was not invited. The meeting was held at the Congress party’s initiative.
In the statement issued after the meeting, the opposition parties said that this “is neither the time for the government at the Centre to indulge in showmanship nor one-upmanship.”
They asked the government to engage in a dialogue with all political parties in a systematic manner, activate parliamentary institutions like standing committees and be genuine in helping the states financially and otherwise.
The opposition parties said the government had made “grand announcements”, but these had done “nothing meaningful to
alleviate the sufferings of people and address the pressing concerns of farmers and farm labour, of migrant and other workers, of trade, & commerce, MSMEs and industry”.
Opposition parties demanded direct cash transfers of Rs 7,500 per month to all families outside the income tax bracket for six months, of which Rs Rs 10,000 be paid immediately, 10 kg of foodgrains to all needy families for the next six months, and increase in MGNREGA work days to 200.
They demanded free transportation for all migrant workers to their native places, and arrangements to rescue all Indian students and other citizens stranded overseas.
Their other demands include accurate and relevant information on Covid-19 infections, testing, infrastructure; reverse all unilateral policy decisions, particularly the annulment of labour laws; procure immediately the rabi harvest at minimum support price (MSP), provide seeds, fertilisers and other inputs; release substantial funds to state governments; and communicate in clear terms the Centre’s exit strategy from the lockdown.