The Congress on Thursday criticised the government for allocating just Rs 3,500 crore to provide relief to migrant labourers, who are affected by the nationwide lockdown implemented to curb the coronavirus pandemic. In a video briefing, Congress leader Manish Tewari said the paltry allocation shows that the Narendra Modi-led government is a “suit boot ki sarkar”.

“The entire quantum of this package is Rs 3,500 crores out of a Rs 20 lakh crore package that BJP ostensibly put together for the greatest humanitarian tragedy since the 1947 partition exodus and the East Pakistan refugee crisis,” Tewari said. “For the millions of migrants that you claim are the builders of this nation, all you have for them is 3,500 crores in terms of atta and chana. This is your empathy for the poor of this country.”

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced earlier in the day that about eight crore migrant workers will get free food grains for the next two months, irrespective of whether they own ration cards. She also said the government planned to introduce an affordable housing scheme for urban poor and migrant workers. The cost of these measures is about 3,500 crore.

The Centre will provide interest subvention of 2% for prompt Mudra-Shishu Loans payees for a period of 12 months, the finance minister said.

However, the Congress said that the government does not even have a figure for the number of migrant workers housed in relief camps. “It seems that neither the PM, nor the FM nor his cabinet are reading the newspapers or watching the news, because they don’t see millions of people, pregnant women walking on the road,” party spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said.

Shrinate said that while the Food Security Act mandates that 66% of the population be covered, at present, this is only 60%. She called for the universalisation of the public distribution system. “Look at the insensitivity of the government that is doing nothing for the workers walking on foot right now, but talking about measures ahead,” Shrinate added.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury called the announcements a “repackage of old schemes”. “All we got was loan schemes and no relief,” he tweeted. “Most are old. So this is a repackage of old schemes. It is an insult.”

Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja said the package announced by the finance minister was mere statistics, PTI reported. “This is nothing but political rhetoric and statistical jugglery,” he claimed. “There is nothing substantial in her address. Migrant labourers are on roads walking thousands of kilometers, what is the government’s reaction to this?”

Amit Shah, BJP praise new measures

However, Union Home Minister Amit Shah praised the measures. In a series of tweets in Hindi, Shah said the help provided to migrants is in consonance with the Modi government’s policy of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”.

“Due to this global pandemic, many migrant labourers living on rent have got problem, for this the Modi government will start a scheme under PMAY [Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana] to provide affordable rent accommodation to these migrant labourers and poor homeless people living in the city,” he added. “I heartily welcome this initiative.”

Shah said the Centre has already given Rs 11,002 crore to the State Disaster Relief Funds for providing accommodation and food to the migrant labourers.

Bharatiya Janata Party President Jagat Prakash Nadda appreciated the Centre’s decision to offer Rs 5,000 crore special credit facility to 50 lakh street vendors. He claimed that Sitharaman’s measures will provide a lot of support to farmers.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers set out on foot to their hometowns in March, after the Centre announced a nationwide lockdown. But the government asked the states to seal their borders. On May 1, following much criticism, the Centre began to operate “Shramik Special” trains for migrant workers to travel home.

India has so far reported 78,003 cases of the coronavirus, including 2,549 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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