Opposition slams government over Covid-19, BJP points to Maharashtra

by Times of India

NEW DELHI: A lively debate in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday saw the opposition attacking the government over “mishandling” the migrant situation and an “unplanned” lockdown while the treasury benches countered by pointing to government schemes to assist the poor and targeted some states like Maharashtra for failing to adequately deal with the pandemic.

Congress sought compensation for the families of migrant workers who died while walking to their native places with party’s deputy leader in the House, Anand Sharma, pointing out that images of deprivation that went out from India cannot be denied even as he said that medical professionals and other frontline workers faced a steep learning curve.

The Upper House debate, the first discussion on the Covid situation, proved to be a sharp affair with BJP’s Vinay Sahashrabuddhe taking potshots at the Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra saying a near-absent leadership — he did not name Uddhav Thackeray — had failed to lead the administrative response.

Pro-Congress voices were wondering if a special lift would have to be made to accommodate the leader’s car so he could visit his office in Mantralaya, he said, pointing out that the main opposition was an alliance partner in the state government.

Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien said the Centre should be humble in dealing with the states and pointed to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee drawing social distancing circles in public spaces. Starting the debate, Sharma also sought to know from the government why there was no figure for the number of migrants who died.

“There should be a register and those people who live in cities who did not get food security, ration, please find solution for such exigencies,” Sharma said. MPs cutting across party lines also insisted during the debate that more time be allowed for discussions on the pandemic. The debate will resume on Thursday when health minister Harsh Vardhan will reply.

Accusing the Centre of not consulting experts to draw a strategy to deal with the pandemic, O’ Brien said out of every Rs 100 spent on public health, Rs 63 comes from the states and only Rs 37 from the central government.

“The problem is when things are going good, you want to take the credit. When things are tough, you start talking about chief ministers,” he said, adding that the PM Cares Fund was the most “opaque” fund in the world.

RCP Singh of JD(U) said during the pandemic, workers from Bihar, who contributed to the development of other states as migrant labour, were “deserted”. There are over 20 lakh migrants workers from Bihar who were sent back without recognising their contribution and now they are being called back by their respective employers, he said.

Swapan Dasgupta, a pro-BJP nominated member, said there was an element of confusion over the total number of Covid-19 cases. “We agree that there is a huge number of people that has been infected. The story which goes throughout the world is that somehow our figure is understated,” he said. “Now, I do not know whether that is true or false but a lot of mathematical modelling on which they are based on would suggest that actually in India the tally would go up to 70 to 80 crore, which seems an absurd proposition,” he added.

Tiruchi Siva (DMK) alleged late action by the government in initiating steps to tackle Covid-19 and said this delay has led to the present situation. “The first case was detected in January and the self-imposed curfew started from March 23,” he said. He alleged that the government was “under-reporting” cases.

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