Congress President Sonia Gandhi held a detailed video conference on Friday with all Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) presidents across the nation to chart out a comprehensive strategy to combat and contain the threat of COVID-19 in India.
The discussions resulted in the preparation of a Corona Action Strategy across states which aims at utilising the extensive and nationwide cadre, networks and organisations of Indian National Congress to fight the disease on a war footing.
The discussions lasted over three hours and were held using online virtual meeting tools during which time the views and concerns of each and every PCC president were heard and discussed. The meeting was conducted and moderated by the General Secretary in charge of Organisation, KC Venugopal.
The Congress President emphasized the following points:
Testing and Prevention are key
The testing rates in India continue to be amongst the lowest in the world (with roughly 120 tests per million) and the government has been unable to respond expeditiously to meet this requirement. In keeping with the road map drawn out during the Congress Working Committee meeting held on April 2 and communicated to the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi exhorted the PCC presidents to ensure that reliable testing mechanisms are ramped up and made available to every single citizen in a rapid fashion. She emphasised, in light of the Supreme Court’s order earlier this week, that Congress workers must ensure that the same is complied with and every individual seeking a test, is administered one free of cost.
The Congress party would also work to make sure that testing is made available rapidly in any case where infection is suspected or in cases where an individual is likely to have been in contact with an infected person. She also expressed concern that there was still a massive shortfall and deficit in the number of testing centres. She urged the Congress State Presidents to work with stakeholders to devise innovative solutions to address this shortfall.
On the subject of prevention, she requested the PCC presidents to ensure state governments provide a steady and sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE’s) i.e. mask, gloves, coveralls etc., especially to frontline workers who are at the gravest risk of infection. She also requested those present to ensure that state governments work towards identifying and designating separate COVID-hospitals and facilities so that the infection is not transmitted to non-COVID patients.
The Congress President once again emphasised the necessity of instituting meaningful financial incentives for Corona Warriors as non-negotiable. Doctors, nurses, medical personnel, police, safai karamcharis must be given adequate financial protection – both in the form of better insurance and wage support where necessary, in addition to the amount currently allocated (which covers only select categories of frontline workers).
The Congress President reiterated and emphasized that the economic aspects cannot be ignored. She once again requested the state Presidents to ensure that their respective state governments are made aware of the economic implications which are likely to match the pandemic in scale and impact. She urged the state Presidents to devise solutions which will leverage the talents and strengths of their respective states and will help alleviate the economic devastation that is being predicted. She also exhorted them to continuously engage with the state governments, to develop suitable and adequate financial packages for the people.
Some key recommendations included:
· The allocation and deposit of at least Rs. 7500 to each Jan Dhan account, to every small and marginal farmer, to every pensioner and especially to other unorganised sector workers through a mechanism utilising the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme.
· In addition to the existing entitlements under the Food Security Act, 10 additional kgs of free ration per family member for the extended 21 days of lockdown must be provided. This increased allocation must be continued thereafter for at least three months. There are also multiple reports coming in that the relief already allocated has not reached several beneficiaries. The Congress workers must ensure that these families are given all support necessary and their plight is brought to the urgent attention of the state governments.
· Special attention must be given to Small and Medium Scale enterprises which even this government acknowledges, are the backbone of the economy with a contribution of almost 30 per cent to the GDP. A special financial package for MSME’s and the labour employed therein must be insisted upon. States should ensure that no retrenchment of existing employees takes place by providing such subsidies as may be necessary.
· Farmers need special assistance. Procurement support for farmers is a vital necessity that has implications for every single Indian citizen. In addition to providing support to harvest and transport the crops, the central and state governments must ensure fair and remunerative prices for the produce. We must also ensure that adequate support is provided for the planting of the next crop cycle and to that end fertilizers, pesticides, easy access to credit lines and other necessary support is forthcoming from the state governments.
The Congress President also discussed the necessity of protecting our fellow citizens who are stranded overseas. They must be given proper assurance that they will be given all necessary support by our local Embassies. A proper and reliable channel of communication must be established by the local Embassies for better coordination between them and their family members residing in India.
The Congress President concluded by reiterating our resolve to fight this disease and to stand together in these challenging times. Even though, as some PCC presidents pointed out, certain states are deliberately obstructing or preventing Congress workers from carrying out urgent and necessary relief measures we must remain steadfast in the service of our fellow citizens.
She thanked the state Presidents for their efforts and for their leadership, vigilance and support in combating this disease and the myriad challenges it presents.