New Delhi: The opposition Wednesday sought to corner the Narendra Modi government in the Rajya Sabha over its management of the Covid pandemic, raising questions about the sudden lockdown announced in March and the plight of the migrants who found themselves jobless in its wake.
Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu had set aside two hours for a discussion on coronavirus, but extended it to four hours Wednesday at the instance of the opposition. While a two-hour discussion took place Wednesday, another two hours will be slotted into Thursday’s schedule.
The Union health minister will then offer his reply.
Here are the five broad questions Rajya Sabha MPs — including one from the ruling BJP — want the Modi government to answer on its Covid-19 management plan.
1. Did the govt prepare for the lockdown announced on 25 March?
PM Narendra Modi announced the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, now being relaxed in a phased manner, in a speech on the evening of 24 March, hours before the restrictions were to kick in.
Anand Sharma, the Congress’ deputy leader in the House, sought to know from the health minister if the government made any preparation before announcing the lockdown from 25 March.
“In his address (to Parliament), the health minister said the lockdown prevented 14 lakh to 29 lakh cases and about 74,000 deaths. Is there a scientific basis for arriving at the figure? The House should be informed,” Sharma added.
MP Swapan Dasgupta, nominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), sought a “clarification from the government on the statistical robustness of the figures”. “Is there a science behind it?”
Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Derek O’Brien referred to the government’s claims about having held video conferences with states in the run-up to the lockdown. “We want to know how many were held before 25 March,” he said.
2. Was the decision to impose lockdown taken by Cabinet, and did the govt consult states on migrant labourer issue before announcing the lockdown?
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Manoj Jha said he wanted to know how the decision to impose the lockdown was taken. “Please tell us if it was a personal decision of an individual or a joint decision because we have a cabinet system,” he added.
Tiruchi Siva of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) asked if the first Covid-19 case was detected in India in January, “what was the government doing till March”.
“People were travelling here and there. Why weren’t flights not stopped earlier?” Siva said.
3. Was the lockdown announcement delayed because of US President Donald Trump’s February visit?
Tiruchi Siva, talking about the “delay” in imposing the lockdown, said, “The delay was because of Donald Trump. You had a gala event planned.”
US President Donald Trump made a two-day state visit to India on 25-25 February. The events planned for his trip included a massive “Namaste Trump” rally in Ahmedabad.
Elamaran Kareem of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said, “The government was not concerned about the distress that people will suffer. It was busy with the reception of Trump in Ahmedabad and toppling the government in Madhya Pradesh…”
Kareem was referring to the late-March shift in government in Madhya Pradesh that followed a rebellion mounted by Jyotiraditya Scindia and his loyalists against the erstwhile Congress administration.
4. Why didn’t Centre provide states with financial assistance for Covid-19?
Prasanna Acharya of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) said all state governments are reeling under an economic crisis, but the central government is “not coming forward to assist them”. “What is the assistance from the Centre to deal with Covid apart from issuing advisories and circulars?”
K. Keshava Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) made a similar claim, also referring to the ongoing row between some states and the central government over GST compensation dues. “You owe us Rs 800 crore. You are not talking about it… The states are aware of their responsibility. Mere video conferencing will not help.”
The Modi government had told the Rajya Sabha earlier this week that it allocated a sum of Rs 4,230.78 crore to states and union territories to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a written response to a series of questions asked by DMK MP Tiruchi Siva from Tamil Nadu related to Covid-19 fund allocation, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey said Tuesday the money was rolled out in two phases between March and August.
5. What is the govt doing to help migrant workers?
Several opposition leaders sought to know what the government is doing to help migrant workers.
Ravi Prakash Verma of the Samajwadi Party (SP) said migrant labourers were affected the worst by the sudden lockdown. K. Keshava Rao of the TRS said the government should immediately prepare a migrant database.
Prasanna Acharya of the BJD noted that many migrant workers are now returning to their workplace, and sought to know if the government has any plan in place for them in case of a second Covid wave. “The Centre should come up with clear guidelines,” he said.