On the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with leaders of various political parties, Congress president Sonia Gandhi Tuesday wrote to him suggesting a series of “austerity measures” to divert funds for battling the coronavirus outbreak. She asked the Prime Minister to suspend the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista beautification and construction project and impose a complete ban on advertisements on media for a period of two years.
The Prime Minister had spoken to Gandhi on Sunday seeking her party’s cooperation for the measures that his government is taking to contain the coronavirus outbreak. He had also asked her to give suggestions to meet the COVID-19 challenge.
In her letter, Gandhi also asked the Prime Minister to order a proportionate reduction of 30 per cent in the expenditure budget of the Government, ban on all foreign visits, including that of the President, the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, state ministers and bureaucrats and transfer of all money under ‘PM Cares’ fund to the ‘Prime Ministers National Relief Fund’ to ensure efficiency, transparency, accountability and audit in the manner in which these funds are allocated and spent.
Gandhi supported the Government’s decision to reduce salaries for Members of Parliament by 30 per cent.
Arguing that “austerity measures which can be used to divert much needed funds to the fight against COVID-19 are the need of the hour”, she suggested five steps, the first being imposing a “complete ban on media advertisements – television, print and online – by the Government and Public Sectors Undertakings for a period of two years.”
The only exceptions, she said, should be advisories for COVID-19 or for issues relating to public health. “Given that the Central Government currently spend an average of Rs 1,250 crores per year on media advertisements (not including an equal or greater amount spent by PSUs and Government companies), this will free up a substantial amount to alleviate the economic and social impacts of COVID-19,” she said.
Secondly, “suspend the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista beautification and construction project forthwith. At a time like this, such an outlay seems self-indulgent to say the least. I am certain that Parliament can function comfortably within the existing historical buildings. There is no urgent or pressing requirement that cannot be postponed until this crisis is contained. This sum could instead be allocated towards constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnostics along with equipping our frontline workers with Personal Protection Equipment (‘PPE’s’) and better facilities,” she said.
She also asked the Government to order a proportionate reduction of 30 per cent in the expenditure budget other than salaries, pensions and central sector scheme) for the Government of India as well. This 30 percent, which she said will come to approximately about Rs 2.5 lakh crores per year, can be allocated towards establishing an economic safety net for migrant workers, labourers, farmers, MSME’s and those in the unorganised sector.
“All foreign visits including that of the President, the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, State Ministers and bureaucrats must be put on hold in a similar fashion. Exceptions can be made in case of special emergency or exigencies in national interest to be cleared by the PM. This amount (which is around Rs 393 crores for just the Prime Minister and Union Cabinet’s trips in the last five years) can be utilised extensively in measures to combat Covid-19,” she said.
Demanding transfer of all money under ‘PM Cares’ fund to the Prime Ministers National Relief Fund, she said “it seems like a waste of effort and resources to have and create two separate silos for the distribution of funds.” Arguing that about Rs 3,800 crores are lying unutilised in the PM-NRF, Gandhi said these funds along with the amount in PM-Cares can be utilised to ensure an immediate food security net for those at the very margins of society.
“Every single Indian has made great personal sacrifices to fight this disease. They have complied with every suggestion, instruction and decision taken by your office and the Central Government. It is time that the legislature and the executive reciprocate this trust and good faith,” she added.
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