Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, extending her party’s support to the government’s decision to slash salaries of Members of Parliament (MPs) by 30%, while also listing five suggestions to fight the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Her suggestions included suspending the Rs 20,000-crore Central Vista beautification and construction project and transferring all money under the PM-CARES fund — set up last month to fight the pandemic — to the Prime Ministers National Relief Fund (PM-NRF).
Gandhi’s letter comes in response to the Prime Minister’s Sunday call seeking suggestions in the wake of the fast-spreading infection caused by the Sars-CoV-2 virus.
“I am writing to convey our support for the decision taken by the Union Cabinet to reduce salaries for MPs by 30%. Austerity measures which can be used to divert much-needed funds to the fight against Covid-19 are the need of the hour. In this spirit, I am writing to offer five concrete suggestions. I am certain you will find value in them,” she said.
Gandhi demanded a complete ban on media advertisements — television, print and online — by the government and public sectors undertakings (PSUs) for a period of two years, with the exceptions being advisories for Covid-19 or issues relating to public health.
“Given that the central government currently spends an average of Rs 1,250 crore 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 added.
The Congress chief also sought immediate suspension of the Central Vista project. “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) and better facilities.”
In her third suggestion, Gandhi sought a proportionate reduction of 30% in the expenditure budget (other than salaries, pensions and central sector schemes) for the central government as well.
“This 30% (Rs 2.5 lakh crore per year approximately) can then be allocated towards establishing an economic safety net for migrant workers, labourers, farmers, MSMEs and those in the unorganised sector,” she added.
The Congress president also urged Modi to put on hold all foreign visits, including that of the President, the Prime Minister, Union ministers, chief ministers, state ministers and bureaucrats. “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 crore 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.”
In her fifth suggestion, Gandhi demanded transfer of all money under PM-CARES fund to the PM-NRF. “This will ensure efficiency, transparency, accountability and audit in the manner in which these funds are allocated and spent. It seems like a waste of effort and resources to have and create two separate silos for the distribution of funds. I understand that Rs 3800 crore approximately are lying unutilised in the PM-NRF (at the end of FY2019). These funds, plus the amount in ‘PM-Cares’, can be utilised to ensure an immediate food security net for those at the very margins of society,” she said.
Gandhi further wrote, “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. Please be assured that you have our unwavering support in meeting the grave challenge of Covid-19 facing the country.”
This is Gandhi’s fifth letter to the Prime Minister since March 23.