Opp questions Modi govt’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic, seeks compensation for migrants who died during lockdown

NEW DELHI, Sep 16: Opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday questioned the Modi government’s claim that the lockdown helped prevent over 29 lakh Covid-19 cases and thousands of deaths, and said it should have ensured better coordination with the states.

Members of the Upper House were participating in a discussion on ‘Covid-19 pandemic and steps taken by the Government of India’.

Several opposition members, including from the DMK and CPI (M), also pointed out that the government took almost two months to impose the lockdown after the first case came to light in January, and claimed the delay had proved costly.

Some of them also took a jibe at the government saying it was busy hosting US President Donald Trump, who was on a two-day India trip in the last week of February.

Initiating the discussion, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma questioned the government’s claims that the lockdown prevented up to 29 lakh Covid-19 cases.

He argued that the people of the country should know if the lockdown truly helped in containing the spread of the disease and sought compensation for the migrant workers who died during the lockdown.

“He (health minister) has said that it has been estimated that this decision prevented approximately 14 to 29 lakh…and 37,000 to 78,000 deaths…The House must be informed as to what is the scientific basis on which we have reached this conclusion that but for the sudden lockdown, the number of cases could have risen to 29 lakh,” Sharma said.

He was of the view that the Centre should have taken the state governments into confidence so that they could have prepared better for the lockdown.

“Were we prepared for the lockdown? I am not levelling any allegation as nobody in the world was prepared, but you could have spoken to the states, alerted them … to make preparations at the district level…

“This did not happen so what happened was that in four hours railways stopped. This led to painful scenes and the picture of the country which went out was not good,” Sharma said, adding the sudden decision led to immense problems to the migrant labourers.

Sharma said that the government has in a reply stated that no compensation has been given because there are no figures regarding the death of migrant workers during the lockdown.

“This is such an unfortunate situation for the country. Why don’t you have figures? Every state knows who died. They should be given compensation,” the Congress leader said.

He said for the future the government should make a database regarding migrant workers in the country.

“There should be a register and those people who live in cities who did not get food security, ration, please find a solution for such exigencies,” Sharma said.

Accusing the Centre of not consulting experts to draw a strategy to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) MP Derek O’ Brien said that the central government should not use the pandemic “to convert democracy into autocracy”.

 He asked if the Centre transferred funds to the informal sector and migrant workers, as demanded by the 12 opposition parties.

Elamaram Kareem (CPI-M) cited data from CMIM (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) to claim that around 15 crore people have lost jobs and alleged that the government has not taken any steps to address the situation.

While talking of the Covid-package, Kareem said that it is just one per cent of the GDP, while the packages from other countries are up to 21 per cent of their GDP.

Manoj Jha of the RJD also raised the issues of workers who were turned down by their employers during the pandemic. (PTI)