Twenty-two Opposition parties, led by the Congress, on Friday put forth 11 demands for the central government after a meeting to discuss measures to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The demands included free travel for migrant workers, direct cash transfers to families outside the Income Tax bracket and restoration of parliament sessions.
The demands were listed by Congress Spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, in an online briefing after the meeting. Surjewala said that the government’s “grand announcements” were not enough to help distressed migrant workers and address the urgent concerns of farmers and small businessmen. He added that the Opposition represented more than 60% of India’s population and that the Centre must pay heed to its demands.
The Opposition parties’ first demand was that that the government transfer Rs 7,500 per month to all families outside the Income Tax bracket for six months. The parties also demanded free transport arrangements to help migrant workers reach home, provision of sufficient funds to the states in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic and reinstatement of labour laws.
The parties also demanded that the Centre must consult the state governments in making important decisions related to the lockdown – such as the resumption of flights – and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of taking away the power of states.
The Opposition meeting was attended by Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda and Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, among others. Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati, Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were among the absentees.
At the meeting, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said that the Centre’s Rs 20 lakh crore economic package, unveiled earlier this month to help the economy tide over the impact of a national lockdown, was a “cruel joke on the country”. She added that all decision-making powers rested with the Prime Minister’s Office and federalism had been completely forgotten.
The Congress president also spoke of the plight of migrant workers, left helpless by the nationwide lockdown. “The defining image of the pandemic has been the lakhs of migrant workers, many with children, walking hundreds of kilometres, without money, food or medicines, desperate to reach their home states,” Sonia Gandhi said at the meeting.
The Centre’s economic package has been repeatedly criticised by the Congress. Rahul Gandhi had appealed to the prime minister to re-think the package and provide direct cash transfers to vulnerable sections of people. His party colleague and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram claimed that the package had left several sections of society “high and dry”.
The Centre’s Rs 20-lakh-crore economic package consists of five portions, focusing on the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector, alleviating the plight of migrant workers, improving agricultural infrastructure and allied industries, coal mining and defence manufacturing and allocations under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.