To fight COVID-19, Sonia offers five suggestions to govt

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, offering five suggestions to cut government expenditure, including scrapping the ₹20,000-crore for the Central Vista project, bannning government advertisements to media, and putting on hold all official foreign trips.

“I am writing to convey our support for the decision taken by the Union Cabinet to reduce salaries of Members of Parliament by 30 per cent. 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,” Ms. Gandhi said.

PM’s initiative

She made it clear that the suggestions were in response to the Prime Minister asking for suggestions from the Congress during a telephonic conversation last Sunday.

“First, impose a complete ban on media advertisements – television, print and online – by the Government and Public Sectors Undertakings [PSUs] for a period of two years. The only exceptions should be advisories for Covid-19 or for issues relating to public health,” she said. She noted that the Centre spent ₹1,250 crore annually on media advertisements.

“Secondly, suspend the ₹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,”she stated. The money could be spent on “constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnostics along with equipping our front line workers with Personal Protection Equipment [PPE] and better facilities.”

Ms. Gandhi said there should be a proportionate 30 per cent reduction in the expenditure budget (other than salaries, pensions and central sector schemes) for the Union government. “This 30 per cent (i.e. ₹2.5 lakh crore a year approximately) could then be allocated towards establishing an economic safety net for migrant workers, labourers, farmers, MSMEs and those in the unorganised sector.”

The Centre had spent ₹393 crore on foreign travel in the past five years. “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 could be made in case of special emergency or exigencies in national interest to be cleared by the Prime Minister.

Ms. Gandhi suggested that all money under the PM-CARES Fund moved to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) to ensure “efficiency, transparency, accountability and audit in the manner in which these funds are allocated and spent”.

“I understand that ₹3800 crore approximately are lying unutilised in the PMNRF [at the end of FY2019]. These funds, plus the amount in PM-CARES Fund, can be utilised to ensure an immediate food security net for those at the very margins of society,” she added.

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