Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Tuesday said the country is in dire need of a second economic assistance package for those who were excluded from the ambit of the package announced on March 26. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced an economic package to help the poor tide over the impact of the countrywide lockdown to contain the novel coronavirus.
In an interview to The Hindu, Baghel claimed the mass displacement of migrants could have been avoided had Prime Minister Narendra Modi consulted the state governments before implementing the lockdown.
“We are staring at an economic crisis,” Baghel said. “All skilled and unskilled labourers have left the factories because of the lockdown. The wheels of all industries have come to a screeching halt. I am no economist, but surely, we will see the economic impact of this lockdown in years to come.”
The chief minister forewarned that the lockdown will yield devastating impacts on the country’s economy, similar to the pulling down effect witnessed under demonetisation. The economic packages and monetary assistance should have precluded the lockdown, he said.
With businesses upended and establishments shut down, a vast numbers of daily wage labourers, many of whom lived where they worked, were suddenly left without any means of sustenance and shelter in large cities. Thousands of them, including whole families, marched along interstate highways to their homes attempting to cross state borders, amid the 21-day lockdown. Many of them have died. While the deaths of at least 22 such migrants are documented, the actual number might be much more.
“It [the Centre] should have anticipated that once the lockdown was implemented scores of persons would not be able to earn a living and would obviously head out to places where they felt more secure,” Baghel said.
The chief minister claimed it was the job of the state government to implement a lockdown. “Did the Prime Minister talk to any of the state governments before unilaterally announcing it? No. Ultimately, it’s the state government’s job to implement it,” he said.
Chhattisgarh has reported seven Covid-19 cases, the disease caused by the coronavirus, with no deaths so far. It was one of the first states to announce a lockdown on March 21, four days before the prime minister announced the three-week countrywide lockdown.
When asked for the reason for imposing a lockdown this early, Baghel said: “We have the Mumbai-Howrah highway cutting across the state and could not have taken a chance.”
Last week, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an economic bailout package worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore to help the poor tide over the impact of the countrywide lockdown. The benefits – through cash and food – were targeted at farmers, migrant workers, the poor, women and the disabled, among others.
In a recent letter to Modi, Baghel suggested that Rs 1,000 a month should be transferred to National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 and workers in the unorganised sector for the next three months. Instead of the promised Rs 500 to women Jan Dhan account holders, he said that Rs 750 must be transferred, adding that the scheme should be extended to men too.
India reported its sharpest spike in the number of the coronavirus cases on Monday as 227 people tested positive in 24 hours, taking the country’s total to 1,251 with 32 deaths.