Senior Congress leader and former Union minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday said the 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 was the beginning of a battle in which the people were “foot soldiers” and Prime Minister Narendra Modi “the commander”. However, Chidambaram suggested a 10-point plan to ensure that vulnerable groups do not miss out on food and money during the lockdown.
On Tuesday, in his second address to the nation on coronavirus, Modi had announced a nationwide lockdown for three weeks – the longest among the countries hit by the pandemic.
Chidambaram said the entire nation must unite in efforts to fight the rapidly spreading disease and forget all debates that took place before the lockdown. “The Prime Minister’s announcement is a watershed moment in the battle against COVID-19,” Chidambaram said in his statement. “The lockdown is the beginning of a battle in which people are foot soldiers and PM is the commander. We owe a duty to extend our total support to the Prime Minister and the central and state governments.”
Chidambaram called for doubling the amount paid to farmers under the PM-KISAN scheme to Rs 12,000 a year and transfer the additional amount immediately to the bank account of each beneficiary. He also said the scheme should be expanded to include tenant farmers.
He also urged the government to transfer a sum of Rs 3,000 to all registered workers under the rural employment guarantee scheme – even at the cost of duplication and other mistakes. For the urban poor, Chidambaram demanded a transfer of Rs 6,000 into Jan Dhan accounts. He said that all ration card holders must be given 10 kg of rice or wheat free of cost during the lockdown period.
Chidambaram said all registered employers must maintain current levels of employment and wages. “Guarantee to such employers who do so that the wages of the employees will be reimbursed by the government within 30 days of payment,” he said.
Modi had admitted that the shutdown would take a toll on the economy. “No doubt, this lockdown will entail an economic cost for the entire nation,” the prime minister said. “But saving the life of every Indian is the first priority for me, the Government of India, the state governments and the local administration.” The announcement had also raised concerns about how the vulnerable groups would survive amid the lockdown.
India has 606 coronavirus cases so far, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Ten people have died of the highly-contagious disease in India.