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Rajya Sabha: Oppn tears into govt over Covid management; BJP says stop politics

The Opposition slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for announcing a nationwide lockdown in March with just four hours’ notice and accused the Centre of not financially supporting state governments and leaving migrant workers in the lurch.

Written by Manoj C G , Esha Roy | New Delhi | Updated: September 17, 2020 7:31:38 am
parliament, parliament monsoon session, parliament Coronavirus, rajya sabha on coronavirus, Covid-19 discussion, Narendra Modi, Opposition on Covid, Indian expressThe bill seeks to replace an ordinance promulgated in this regard in June.

Opposition parties and ruling BJP on Wednesday crossed swords in Rajya Sabha as it began a discussion on the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Opposition slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for announcing a nationwide lockdown in March with just four hours’ notice and accused the Centre of not financially supporting state governments and leaving migrant workers in the lurch. They emphasised the need to strengthen the federal structure of governance, and accused the Centre of taking unilateral decisions.

Hitting back, BJP’s Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and other top bureaucrats held discussions with chief ministers at least 15 times since the lockdown began (on March 25). “But no chief minister has said that the lockdown should not have been imposed.”

Initiating the discussion, Congress deputy leader of House Anand Sharma questioned Health Minister Harsh Vardhan’s assertion in his statement in Parliament that early lockdown announced by Modi prevented 14 lakh to 29 lakh Covid cases, and 37,000 to 78,000 deaths.

Read: State rivalries play out in Lok Sabha, raise heat of Covid-hit session

Sharma asked: “How have you derived this figure? What is the scientific basis? The House must be informed (how) we have reached this conclusion (that) but for the sudden lockdown the number of cases would have gone up (by another) 29 lakh…. The day the lockdown was imposed, using emergency provisions under NDMA Act, we had 600 cases in India. As we discuss this subject (today), there are 50 lakh cases, and almost 82,000 deaths. This is the true picture.”

He said before imposing the lockdown, the Centre should have taken state governments into confidence so that the local administrations could carry out the necessary groundwork.

Sharma, and other leaders, also slammed the government on not having figures on the number of migrant workers who died during the lockdown, most of them trudging back home. “This is such an unfortunate situation for the country. How can you not have figures? Every state knows who died. They (victims’ families) should be given compensation, and the government should make a database of migrant workers for future,” Sharma said.

Accusing opposition parties of playing politics, BJP member Sahasrabuddhe said, “Like in the case of GST… decisions are taken (in GST Council) on the basis of a consensus, but they (chief ministers of Opposition-governed states) played politics outside…. The Opposition should not show such double standards.”

He said Modi and Shah are often targeted on social media by the Opposition and others. “I believe politics of responsibility is more important than politics of ridicule,” he said.

Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien asked whether the Centre held any discussions with state governments before the lockdown was announced. “You said you had 43 video conferences. Please give us the dates of those video conferences. Did you hold one video conference before March 26,” he asked.

Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on March 24 night; it got under way from midnight.

Slamming the government for putting a freeze on MPLADS fund, O’Brien said: “…On the subject of finance, the most opaque and dark fund in the world is called the Prime Minister’s Couldn’t Care Less Fund [sarcastic allusion to PMCARES Fund]. Oh! I said the name wrong…. And what about students attempting NEET and JEE exams? What was your preparation from April to now?”

DMK’s Tiruchi Siva said while the first Covid-19 case was detected in the country in January, the government did nothing about the situation until March — “because you were hosting Donald Trump’s visit’’. After the lockdown, he said, “India’s performance has been the worst, with the lowest GDP and one of the highest case (load). You are under-reporting cases.”

Biju Janata Dal’s Prasanna Acharya said: “What financial assistance has the Centre given to states to deal with the pandemic, apart from issuing advisories?”

Hitting out at Sahasrabuddhe’s speech, RJD MP Manoj Kumar Jha said even he could talk on about the Bihar government’s failure in dealing with the pandemic, “but I do not want to get politics into such an important issue”. He asked: “Was the lockdown imposed as an individual’s decision? Or was it a consultative process of a group, for which there is the Cabinet? If there was such a Cabinet meeting (to decide on the nationwide lockdown), then please release the details.”

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