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'What After May 17?' - Congress Questions Government's Strategy on Lockdown

File photo of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. (Image: PTI)

File photo of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. (Image: PTI)

Chief ministers of Congress-ruled states said they would urge the PM to provide an assistance package to cope with the pandemic as well as the economic situation.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday questioned the government over the criteria it adopted to judge how long the COVID-19-induced lockdown will continue.

Addressing a meeting of chief ministers of states where the Congress is in power, Sonia Gandhi asked "what after May 17?"

Chief ministers of Congress-ruled states also highlighted that their states were reeling under financial stress and asserted that they would urge the prime minister once again to provide an assistance package to cope with the pandemic as well as the economic situation.

India has been under lockdown since March 25 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The first and second phase of the lockdown was from March 25 to April 14 and April 15 to May 3, respectively. The third phase began from May 4 and would end on May 17.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi were also part of the meeting held through video-conferencing.

"After May 17th, What? and After May 17th, How? What criteria is GoI (government of India) using to judge how long the lockdown is to continue...," Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala quoted Sonia Gandhi as saying in the meeting to discuss the COVID-19 situation and the post-lockdown work.

She thanked farmers, particularly of Punjab and Haryana, for ensuring food security by giving bumper wheat produce despite all odds.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said, "We need to know, as Soniaji said, what will happen after lockdown 3.0?".

"Soniaji has already pointed out. CMs need to deliberate and ask as to what is the strategy of the government of India to get the country out of the lockdown," Singh asked.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the central piece of the strategy to fight COVID-19 is to protect the elderly as well as those who are diabetic and with heart conditions.

"All chief ministers were unanimous in stating that the Government of India is pushing states towards fiscal stress and were not providing with financial assistance to fight COVID19 as well as economy," Surjewala said at a press conference.

He said this is true for not only the Congress-ruled states but was also true for rest of the states.

"The chief ministers were of the opinion that they will once again write to Prime Minister to assist states in their fight with COVID19," he said when asked what strategy would Congress chief ministers adopt when faced with financial stress.

"What after lockdown 3. What are the objectives and achievements after May 17...There seems to be neither a roadmap nor an exit strategy. Will there now be a lockdown 4 and lockdown 5 and when will it finally end and when will life begin," he also asked.

He said the chief ministers as well as the Congress president and former PM and ex-Congress chief also expressed deep concern over the "unsurmountable and cruel" increase in prices of petrol and diesel by the central government.

Speaking at the meeting, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he has set up two committees, one to strategise on how to come out of the lockdown and the other on economic revival.

"Concern is people sitting in Delhi are deciding on classification of (COVID-19) zones without knowing what's happening on the ground," he said at the meeting.

Pegging the April revenue shortfall for Punjab at 88 per cent, Singh said with all tax revenues dried up and only 1.5 per cent of the industry currently operational, the state was facing a difficult financial situation.

Rajasthan Chief minister Ashok Gehlot said, "Until extensive stimulus package is given, how will states and the country run? We have lost Rs 10,000 crore revenue."

He said states have repeatedly requested the prime minister for a package, "but we are yet to hear from the government of India".

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said, "States are facing dire economic crisis. They need to be provided immediate assistance."

He said Chhattisgarh is one state where 80 per cent of small industries have restarted and nearly 85,000 workers have returned to work.

The Centre is deciding on COVID-19 zones without consulting states, Puducherry chief minister V Narayanasamy alleged.

"This is creating an anomalous situation. People sitting in Delhi can't tell the states, No State or CM is consulted. Why?" he asked.

"PM isn't saying a word on economic package for states," he said.

Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram also alleged that states are "bleeding" in terms of finances but no money is being allocated by the government.

He said a number of newspapers have brought out the unavailability of finances with states.

Former Union minister M Veerappa Moily said the strategy to declare lockout or come out of it hasn't been stated at all by the prime minister or changed at all.

During the meeting, the Congress president also discussed the issue of migrant labourers and workers returned home through special trains.

Sonia Gandhi had announced on Monday that the state units of Congress party would pay for the train fare of migrants as they prepare to go back to their homes. She also criticised the central government for charging them train fare.

Surjewala later said the chief ministers told the Congress president, that "they will pay for the travel of migrant labourers and have asked the Railways for special trains."

"Punjab CM informs that Rs 35 crore has been set aside and Railways is charging Rs 870 per ticket, which state is paying," he said.

first published:May 06, 2020, 19:45 IST