CPI-ML New Democracy

Fighting Corona : Symbolism is Not the Need of the Hour

(Ms. Nirmala Seetharaman, Union Finance Minister announced a package of Rs. 1.70 lakh crores (roughly 22 billion US $). Compare it with the package passed by US Senate of US $ 2.2 trillion i.e. 2200 billion. Modi Govt.’s package is only 1% of the US package, but is to take care of four times the population of USA. Not to be misled by the propaganda of smaller Indian economy, the package is less than 1% of GDP as opposed to over 10% in US, Singapore and several other countries. This is on top of the miniscule amount spent by the Govt. on Health and the abysmal condition of Health infrastructure in the country.

The announcement is scary as it shows the lack of intent of the RSS-BJP Govt. which has bestowed much more on its corporate friends – Ambanis, Adanis, Chandras, etc.- and allowed loot of public exchequer by those close to it. It has proved itself unequal to, or rather, is unmindful of the challenge facing the Indian people. Some of the announcement is just a rehash of the existing schemes like 2000/- Rs. payment to peasants and some of them plain noise like increase of Rs. 20/- per day to MNREGS workers i.e. if they get the work once the lockdown stops.

We are here posting a comment by Com. Aparna, IFTU President, on the announcement.)

The Financial Relief of 1.7 lakh crore rupees announced for India by the Finance Minister is unlikely to make a major impact on the lives of those who need assistance urgently. While announcing an extra 5kg of grain and a kilo of dal per month per head for those covered by PDS, she skipped the details, where lies the catch. There is apparently not going to be home delivery of rations. There is no stop to the distribution being tied to only those ration cards which are linked to Aadhar.And the core issue is that the demand has been for ration, soap and cooking fuel for all poor linked to doorstep delivery. This has not been even commented on.

The FM has doled pittances to single women, pensioners and disabled- Rs 500 for women in these times when the Govts across the country including in Delhi are failing to protect from the police the right to opening of small grocery shops. There is inevitable hoarding, inevitable price rise for a large section of working population who have no ration cards especially in large metros.

Construction workers throughout the country should have been given minimum wage of the state from the colossal amounts of money lying hoarded by state govts in welfare funds meant for workers alone. Even the Supreme Court had sometime earlier bewailed the refusal of Governments to part with the massive sums of these funds lying locked in Banks TheRs. 2000 announced for peasants is merely a repetition of the old announcement and should not have been drawn from the corona relief fund. Similarly, what is the point of hiking MGNREGA wages, that to by a princely sum of twenty rupees, in a lockdown situation. There should be account transfer to all of them, of every paisa of their old dues, plus a month’s minimum wage immediately and for next three months.

A massive human issue unaddressed by the FM is the thousands of migrants stranded in cities; planes have brought in people stranded abroad and Govts have politely refrained from protecting the country by compulsorily quarantining them for 15 days. But what about running special trains to take these workers home safely with full precautions? Heart rending stories of thousands upon thousands walking on roads to their homes thousands of miles away braving hunger and police beatings on the way, with their small children bearing all this with their parents! Stories of thousands and thousands of them stranded on roads without food and shelter in the states far far away from their homes! Those making the announcement of lockdown and those cheering it should have spared a thought for these. Workers are braving the brunt! How about their rental payments if they are trying to stay where they are- landlords are at times themselves dependent on the rentals for survival. Why should Govt. not open closed and under construction and unsold buildings and house for this population?

While free refills are promised under Ujjwala scheme, what about the huge population which is uncovered by it? Why not free cooking fuel to every home and no tax and surcharges of any govt on the cooking gas cylinders? That would provide real relief to even the lower and middle class who do not earn a govt wage. Coverage of EPF deposits of both employer and employee by Govt is not so simple and direct as it looks, and allowing workers to withdraw their own EPF is hardly a govt’s intervention. Govt. should have also clearly stated that they would pay the dues of all contract workers employed in organizations of any size who are being paid less than co permanent workers.

Many concrete relief measures have been demanded by trade union organizations and people’s organizations which the Govt has not bothered to address itself to. Rather than addressing the task of connecting to people’s need of food and shelter, of effectively providing protective gear to Health personnel, the Central Govt. has once again made superficial announcements. They are unlikely to make any impact.