Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Saturday criticised the Narendra Modi government for its “the gross unpreparedness and avoidable adhocism” in foreseeing, evaluating and managing the coronavirus crisis in the country.

Gandhi said that despite having a year to prepare, the country has been “regrettably, caught off guard again” by the second wave of the pandemic that has ripped through India.

“Families are being torn apart, lives and livelihoods have been lost and entire life savings depleted on healthcare,” she said at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee held to discuss the Covid-19 crisis.

The Congress chief also expressed concern about the acute shortages of medical equipment and hospital beds reported across several states. “Reports from across the country speak of the scarcity of Covid-19 vaccine as also of important life saving drugs including remdesivir in different parts of the country,” she said.

Gandhi said she held a detailed discussion with the chief ministers of states ruled by the Congress to take stock of the emergent situation from them. “Our chief ministers have spoken to the Prime Minister [Narendra Modi] and written to the concerned minister from time to time pleading for relief,” she added. “Some of them were left with only a few days of vaccine, no oxygen or ventilators.”

But all their demands were met with “thundering silence” on part of the Centre, Gandhi said. She also accused the central government of giving preferential treatment to “some states” while ignoring the requests of states ruled by the Congress and Opposition parties.

“Instead of listening to the constructive suggestions of the opposition, Union Ministers are pressed into service to attack leaders of opposition for giving those suggestions,” she said. The Congress leader described this as a “convoluted ‘me versus you’ debate”, which she said was “childish and totally unnecessary”.

Gandhi urged the Narendra Modi government to consider the suggestions the Congress party puts forward in the spirit of true democratic traditions. “Taking on these challenging times as Indians rather than as political opponents will be true Rajadharma,” she said.

On vaccines

Gandhi also requested the Centre to reconsider its priority for vaccine candidates by reducing the immunisation age to 25 years and above, from the current 45 years. She said the government should think about all younger persons with at-risk health disorders like asthma, angina, diabetes, kidney and liver diseases and other similar ailments.

She criticised the Centre for exporting vaccines without taking care of the country’s domestic requirements. “Considering the highest infection rate in the world in our own country, shouldn’t vaccine export be held back and priority given to protect our citizens?” she said. “How is boasting about our generosity to other countries going to help the thousands of our people who are dying.”

Migrants and economy

At the meeting, the Congress also reviewed the economic fallout of this phase of the pandemic. Gandhi said that during her discussions with party leaders, all chief ministers said they felt that equipments, instruments, medicines and support required to prevent and treat Covid-19 should be made free from GST, or the Goods and Services Tax.

She said the current GST rates on essential medical supplies was “inhuman and untenable”. “It is a matter of grave concern that life saving drugs like Remdesivir etc and medical oxygen as also other basic supplements are subjected to GST @ 12%,” Gandhi added as a way of explanation. “Even basic equipments like Oxymeters and life saving critical equipment like ventilators are subjected to 20% GST.”

As the central and state governments move ahead to control the situation by resorting to partial curfews, travel restrictions, closure and lockdowns, Gandhi noted that the country will again be restricting economic activity that will hit the already beleaguered people, especially the poor and the daily wagers.

“It is, therefore, imperative to provide monthly income support and transfer an amount of Rs.6,000/- in every eligible citizen’s account,” she said. “Similarly, with reverse migration of labour already having started, it will be critical to immediately address their need of safe transportation as indeed their suitable rehabilitation in host as well as home states.”

‘This government has no strategy’

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, castigated the government for failing to come up with a proper strategy to handle the situation, the Hindustan Times reported. “This government has no strategy against Covid,” he said. “It has no proper vaccination strategy and no oxygen strategy.”

At least two Congress leaders, Digvijaya Singh and Pramod Tiwari, seconded Gandhi. Tiwari, who was the fifth speaker at the meeting, claimed that Rahul Gandhi had predicted all these Covid-related developments last year, but the Centre had ignored his warnings.