COVID-19: Together We Must Fight
Two significant developments took place in India on Thursday amid anxiety and insecurity over the rapidly increasing novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in the world as well as in the country. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an INR 1.7 lakh crore stimulus package under PM Gareeb Kalyan Scheme to help the poor, migrants and daily wage earners who have been hit hard by the 21-day nationwide lockdown initiated by the government of India to contain the spread of the contagious virus in the country. Assuring that “no one will go hungry,” the finance minister’s relief package included a medical insurance cover of INR 50 lakh per person for healthcare workers, direct cash transfers to pensioners, women and specially-abled etc., disbursement of first instalment of INR 2,000 under the Kisan Samman Nidhi to farmers, increase in MNREGA wage, financial aid to Jan Dhan women account holders and self-help groups, free cylinders to BPL families under Ujjawala scheme, among others. It was a welcome move, especially when the marginalised and the most vulnerable sections of the society have been pushed to the edge. This assurance from the government will not only erase the fear and insecurity in the minds of the people but also help implement the nationwide lockdown more effectively, as the poor who live hand-to-mouth don’t have to venture out to earn.
The other development that took place on Thursday was Sonia Gandhi’s letter of support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wherein she wrote the 21-day nationwide lockdown announced as a measure to fight the coronavirus was a welcome step. The Congress interim president wrote that “the entire nation stands as one in solidarity in the fight to halt and defeat the Corona pandemic”. While expressing the need to rise above partisan interests to overcome the massive health crisis, Mrs. Gandhi also placed some suggestions: Providing personal protection equipment (PPE) including N-95 masks and hazmat suits to healthcare workers and those working in the frontline, dedicated portal to disseminate information related to Covid-19, construction of temporary facilities with ICUs and ventilators in select locations, financial help to the poor, etc. she concluded the letter with the remark: “We in the Congress Party stand with the people of India at this time of national crisis and we extend to the government, our full support and cooperation.”
Many will see a glimmer of hope in the finance minister’s financial package and Mrs. Gandhi letter of support. It is imperative to look into the needs of the vulnerable sections of the people during crisis such as this. Nationwide lockdown affects everyone but it hits the weak harder. If the poor are left starving during the course of the country’s effort to contain the spread of coronavirus, the purpose of taking up such a harsh measure will be defeated. Besides taking economic relief measures, the people of the nation should rise above politics and parochial divisions to defeat the invisible common enemy which knows no status, borders, gender or age. If we stand together in the fight, we will not only win but also come out of the crisis stronger, and the world will celebrate the triumph of relentless human spirit.