Several members of the Opposition lashed out at the Centre’s relief package to revive the economy, battered by the nationwide lockdown enforced to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The prime minister made the announcement on Tuesday night and said the financial aid of Rs 20 lakh crore was nearly 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
The Congress pointed out that the prime minister had only mentioned the Rs 20 lakh crore figure but failed to provide any details on how it would be disbursed. The party’s spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also pointed out that Modi had not addressed the issue of migrant labourers in his speech. “India is deeply disappointed by your utter lack of empathy, sensitivity and failure to address the woes of millions of migrant workers,” Surjewala tweeted.
The nationwide lockdown that was first imposed on March 25 has been extended twice – first till May 3 and then until May 17. This left lakhs of migrant workers stranded as they struggled to make ends meet and many demanded permission to go back home.
Last month, the Centre arranged for the movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and “other persons” by “Shramik Special” trains to be operated by the railways during the lockdown. However, by this time, many migrant workers had already attempted to travel home on foot, but some were stopped owing to the closure of state borders. Some also died on their way while a few others died in accidents.
Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the prime minister gave a “headline” and a “blank page”, and much was left for speculation. “ Naturally, my reaction was a blank!” he tweeted. He added that every “additional rupee that the government will actually infuse into the economy” will be counted. “What the package offers to the poor, migrants workers will also be carefully examined.”
In a separate tweet on Wednesday, Chidambaram said he looked forward to learning the details of the stimulus package that is likely to be announced by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at 4 pm on Wednesday.
Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi expressed doubt about the final shape and size of the package.“If substantially, concretely, new proposal is 10% of GDP, it would be great,” Singhvi tweeted. “Both god and devil lie in details, not available. Ten per cent should be additional, not counting old pre-corona[virus] schemes.”
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar shared Singhvi’s suspicions, according to NDTV. The party’s spokesperson Nawab Malik said the package “should not go the Bihar way”. Malik was referring to the relief package announced for Bihar in 2015 ahead of the state elections. Opposition parties have repeatedly questioned how much of the monetary assistance announced that time was beneficial. “Let’s see how it unfolds,” he told the channel. “We will wait for the details. But it should not go the way Bihar’s package went.”
Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill said he hoped the Rs 20 lakh crore package has not been “scripted” the same way people were promised assistance of Rs 15 lakh, cleaning the Ganga river, bringing back black money in 100 days, transforming Varanasi into Kyoto and “ending terrorism with demonetisation”.
The Trinamool Congress termed Modi’s address as “incomplete and disappointing”, arguing that there was no proper direction on how the financial package will be used and what would happen in the next phase of lockdown. “Most of his speech was all about boasting about his government’s so-called achievements,” Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy told PTI.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s former ally, Shiv Sena, said that while the relief package was needed, the prime minister should also have talked about giving the states their share of the Goods and Services Tax. “There is criticism of PM Cares Fund as it is not under the Right to Information Act,” Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande told NDTV. “He should have talked about that too.”
Meanwhile, political strategist Prashant Kishor said that the pandemic had emerged as a major threat to lives and economies and criticised the prime minister’s speech. “Either the whole world is foolish or we are smarter than the rest to believe that a global pandemic like Covid that has emerged as a major threat to lives, economies and material progress across the globe could be turned into our advantage and catapult India to top of the world,” he tweeted.
The package was welcomed by only one Congress leader. “Better late than never,” said Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who said his state awaits the fiscal stimulus from the Centre.