Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday asked the Centre to reveal its plan of action after the countrywide lockdown to break the chain of Covid-19 infection ends on May 17.
In a meeting with chief ministers of Congress-ruled states held via video conference, Gandhi reviewed how party leaders were tackling the coronavirus situation and assessed their needs. “What criteria is the government of India using to judge how long the lockdown is to continue?” she asked. “What after May 17?”
Last week, the Centre decided to extend the nationwide lockdown for the second time until May 17. During this period, limited economic activities will be allowed in designated orange and green zones.
The meeting was also attended by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and party leader Rahul Gandhi. Singh supported Sonia Gandhi’s contention, and said the chief ministers need to deliberate and ask what the Centre’s strategy is to get the country out of the lockdown.
“The central piece of strategy to fight covid is to protect the elderly as also those who are diabetic and with heart condition,” Rahul Gandhi said.
Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy blamed the Centre of “creating an anomalous situation” by demarcating districts into red, green and orange zones without consulting the states. “Why is no state leader or chief minister consulted?” he asked.
In Punjab, the government has set up two committees – one to strategise on an exit strategy for the lockdown and the other to work on the economic revival of the state, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said at the meeting. However, the concern is that “people sitting in Delhi are deciding on classification of zones without knowing what is happening on ground,” he added.
The Congress leaders also discussed the economic collapse laid bare by the pandemic. “States are bleeding in terms of finances but no money is being allocated by the government of India,” Chidambaram said at the meeting. “A number of newspapers have brought out the unavailability of finances with states.”
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel agreed with Chidambaram and claimed that states are facing a “dire economic crisis”. “They need to be provided immediate assistance,” he said. “Chattisgarh is one state where 80% of small industries have restarted and nearly 85,000 workers have returned to work.”
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot claimed that states have repeatedly requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a financial package, but “we are yet to hear from the government”. “Until extensive stimulus package is given, how will states and [the] country run?” he asked. “We have lost Rs 10,000 crore of revenue.”
The meeting of Congress leaders came two days after Sonia Gandhi tore into the Centre’s decision to charge migrant workers for providing special trains amid the nationwide lockdown, and said the party will pay for their train travel. The Congress leader said it is “particularly disturbing” that the Centre and the railway ministry decided to make migrants pay the train fare during the crisis.
However, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday claimed that the Ministry of Railways has subsidised the fare of train tickets for migrant workers by 85% and state governments have been asked to pay the remaining 15% on their behalf.