In continuation to Modi’s speech on 12th May announcing Rs 20 lakh crores stimulus package, the FM Nirmala Seetharaman has started explaining how this stimulus shall be implemented in a series of press conferences from 13th May. Today she has started this process, under the guise of self-reliance, a series of measures are announced for MSMEs after changing the definition by raising their investment and turnover limit. But, there was not even a mention of the informal and unorganised sectors. No Immediate relief for the dying many millions of migrant workers. No direct money transfer to the starving millions. At the same time, she announced many tax giveaways to middle classes. The state governments are completely ignored, when they are in extreme crisis on account of heavy responsibility to deal with COVID-19, and nothing to rejuvenate their financial position.. There was not even mention of the question of distributing the GST arrears due to states. Her high sounding and rhetorical presentation, had nothing concrete for the most deprived. There is a reference to more liberalisation in FDI, labour, land and necessary legal changes for that. But details are not announced..
When the whole world is in lockdown, Modi has no other option other than appealing for becoming "Atmanirbhar" (self-reliance). On the other hand, the "Make in India" program, announced by him after ascending to power in 2014, has become a farce and that slogan was a cover for transforming India in to a dustbin/dumping ground for MNCs In view of the announcements yet to come, especially related to liberalisation in FDI, labour laws, land acquisition, etc., the fate of Atmanirbhar is not going to be different. Meanwhile, the 15 items taken up today are oriented towards rejuvenating middle classes with tax exemptions and money availability while nothing is there for the most deprived inter-state migrant workers. No mention on the transfer of GST dues to State Govts. COVID is an opportunity for shoring up the vote banks for the ruling regime. In the name of atma-nirbharatha, Modi is continuing his organized plan to hoodwink the masses to implement the RSS agenda. When Covid19 broke out, not perturbed by another wave of its outbreak, as WHO and many scentists are warning, Modi is trying to strengthen his corporate fascist rule, helping the mad race of the foreign and native corporate forces for further accumulation of natural wealth. So, showing any feeling about the plight of the millions of migrant workers and their families is alien to Modi.
K N Ramachandran
CPI (ML) Redstar
13th May 2020
The Covid 19 pandemic has already spread to all countries in the world. The number of patients is reaching around 2 million, and the dead more than 1,00, 000, with tens of millions under quarantine or isolation. Only in China, South Korea and Cuba these numbers started declining, with the first hot spot Wuhan removing lockdown after 76 days. The West European countries, England and US are presently the main hot spots, with the US having the largest number of patients. The pandemic is still spreading with no end in sight. Everywhere stock markets are crashing, GDP growth rate falling and unemployment shooting up, raising the danger of global recession. The emergence of such viruses or mutation of old viruses, according to scientists, are taking place directly linked to the increasing climate change, as a result of plunder of nature by the global capitalist imperialist system, with the drive of finance capital for super maximization of profit reaching extreme limits, raising the threat of ecological catastrophe.
The first case of Covid19 was confirmed in China by the end of December. The first case in India was detected in Kerala on 30th January among Wuhan evacuees.. But, in spite of WHO declaring Covid outbreak as Public health emergency of international concern on 30th January, the central government started screening and testing international passengers at airports from 6th March only. Even when WHO declared Covid19 as a Pandemic on 11th March, Modi government had not taken any serious steps to prepare the people for it. The screening and testing of international passengers formally started only on 6th March, but still not strictly enforced. This was because there were not enough testing kits. The procurement of new testing kits and the development and production of the same was not approached with the urgency it deserved.
In this situation, PM Modi addressing the nation on 19th March and calling for Janatha Curfew on 22nd March was an abrupt decision without prior planning, preparation, and creating awareness, without taking the people or the state governments, or UTs in to confidence. As many of the state governments calling lockdowns from 23rd morning, a chaotic atmosphere was created. When the government had adopted the strategy of immediate and complete lock-down, it should have made adequate arrangements for the same. Subsequent events have shown that no arrangements had been made. No proper arrangements were made to reach food and essentials immediately to the people. No arrangements had been made to provide money to the people. No proper camps had been set up in adequate numbers. No arrangements had been made to reach migrant workers back to their villages safely and to test them or quarantine them in their villages. No thought had been given to sick and infirm. Not only that, even after 18 days of lockdown, such arrangements are still not in place. In short, the PM and the BJP government seems to have thought that they have to issue orders only for people to stay at home and people would fend for themselves even without stepping out of the house. It was like ambushing the workers. When the workers decided to walk back with great hardship as there were no adequate arrangements for them, they were met by brute force by the police and put into camps resembling concentration camps, with many thousands more stranded at different places. There are reports that the facilities and food at such camps are sub-human. This was the worst possible way to tackle the problem.
On the one hand, when the FCI godowns have 75 million ton of old stock of food grains, the state governments are not given sufficient quantity of food grains for issuing free and adequate supply of rations to people. The almost 30 crores of jobless people in the slums, in the shelters and at different centers where the workers are stranded are not getting sufficient food or medi-care. The workers who lost jobs are not given wages. No allowances are given to all others who lost jobs also. In this situation starvation deaths may take place at any time. It is like throwing casual/contract workers and toiling masses in to ventilator along with the whole economy.
Now, by 11th April, the number of Covid patients have crossed 7,000 and th dead 200, with the pandemic spreading to more areas. On 3rd March the WHO had issued a statement asking for industry to increase production of face masks and for Governments to give incentives to industry for this. But, the central government has given no incentive for this. For production of ventilators also no grant or incentive has been given. For all this the Government is clearly responsible. No immediate measures were taken to supply safety gears and essential items even to doctors and medical staff, leading to unusually large number of them getting infected and hospitalized even now. In spite of being warned months before, the central government could not take measures to procure necessary medicines and equipments including testing kits and ventilators when they are needed.. So, when in south Korea testing rates are 7659 for one million, it is only 32 in India. It is in this context, the controversy with regard to export of Choloroqine to US should be seen. As internationalists, we are for helping the different countries at this difficult juncture, by providing medicines also. So, we consider it was wrong on the part of Modi government to put a total ban on all exports of medicines and equipment in the first place. But, then to withdraw it in the face of Trump’s open threat was pathetic.
At the same time, while all these glaring weaknesses of the Modi government to confront the Covid threat were getting exposed, similar to what RSS/BJP did during the anti-CAA movement, they made conscious efforts to blatantly use the Tablighi Jamaat incident to spread Islamophobia to divert attention of the people. While Tablighi leaders deserves criticism for their unserious approach about it, it is the the Delhi government and Delhi police mainly responsible for creating such a situation. At the same time, the call for observing 9 minutes at 9 pm on 5th April during Ram Navami week was religious in itself as lighting of diyas has Hindu religious significance. For receiving contributions for relief, when already there is PM Relied Fund, there was no need to make a new fund, PM Cares. These steps by the BJP leadership did not in any way help in mobilizing all the people in the fight against Covid19.
In this grave situation, from the time PM Modi announced on 19h March to observe the Janatha Curfew on 22nd March, in spite of all our ccriticisms against the way his government handled the fight against Covid19, the CPI(ML) Red Star along with class/mass organizations are active in the relief work in whichever way possible. It is in this context, the Central Committee of the CPI(ML) Red Star is putting forward following proposals and demands before the central and state governments for urgent necessary action. All party committees are called upon to continue their involvement in the relief work, and to campaign among the people and mobilize them for realization of these demands:
Our Proposals and demands are:1. We propose to the central government that all important decisions regarding the fight against Covid19 should be taken in consultation with the state governments in accordance with the spirit of federalism, as it is the state governments and the Union Territories’ administration who are in the forefront taking the full burden of screening, testing, isolating, quarantining and treating of the suspects and patients, arranging shelters and food for the migrant workers, ration for people etc. We also propose that for implementation of the relief work, the central government should maintain regular communication with state governments, between ruling and opposition parties, between government and mass organizations and civil societies, and mobilize people’s involvement wherever necessary. We propose to the state governments and administration of the UTs to form people’s committees, involving political parties, trade unions, women’s groups, youth, mass organizations and volunteer forces along with local body members, at the local/grassroots level, for preparing and distributing food, for making medicines, shelter and other essential amenities available to the needy and for coordinating such activities avoiding bureaucratic delays.
- The Covid19 pandemic is a grave national disaster. To fight against it and to provide relief to people requires enormous funds. So, the economic package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore announced by the Modi government amounts to nothing. For providing Rs 8,000 per month for three months to 25 crore workers’ families requires around 6 lakh crores. Another 3 lakh crores for medical expenses, camps expenses, etc. Allowances for the migrant workers in the informal sectors like hawkers etc, to slum dwellers, fisher people, to the rural poor, assistance to farmers etc requires about 6 lakhs crore. So, totally atleast Rs. 15 lakh crores is required. Our proposals are: Through taxation of or contributions from temples, matts, churches, masjids, Gurudwaras, etc Rs. 2 lakh crores; As taxation of corporates was almost 7 lakh crores last year, a 50% increase in corporate tax for this year will yield around 3.5 lakh crores; We can take it that the PM Care and PM Relief Fund has already got Rs. 1 lakh crore in it; All unnecessary and avoidable expenses like Rs. 20,000 crore beautification fund for Luwten at New Delhi, MPs’ fund etc. also yield one lakh crore; The remaining amount can be taken from the huge foreign exchange reserves of over $ 480 billion we have.
- Even 20 days after the clamping of countrywide lockdown, the central government has not come out so far with any concrete proposals about what it intends to do after the completion of the 21 days’ lockdown. While many state governments have suggested continuation of lockout in their states, there are also opinions supporting the selective withdrawal of lockdown after 14thApril as was done in China and now in South Korea and some other countries. Our proposal is, whatever decision is taken, it should be based on the opinion of the experts, scientists and doctors. It should not be a political decision as was done by Modi government till now. Meanwhile, categorisation of different areas in the country according to COVID risks can be looked in to. Hot spots/infection cluster can be locked down to avoid community spread.
- Make arrangements for increasing testing as WHO repeatedly point out. Many places need facilities for testing for doubtful cases. For this test kits, doctors, medical staff, etc should be made available. Testing and everything connected with the pandemic should be free. Isolating the hot spots, intensify testing including random testing using rapid test kits. Implement isolation and quarantine of all suspects, better treatment and food to patients, make all medical requirements available everywhere and utilize services of medical and nursing students and other volunteers. We demand that the state government should take control of all private hospitals to speed up testing and treatment of the patients. Ensure adequate pay, allowance and compensation for doctors and medical and paramedical staff with.
- We demand the following for the workers:
- Issue an ordinance immediately to treat the full period of the lockdown as period on duty for all workers including contract workers, casual workers, NEEM workers, etc. All must be paid full wages for this period. Non-payment of such a wage to any person who was working as on 10thMarch 2020 will be a punishable offence besides attracting interest and penalty.
- Declare a moratorium on closures, lock-outs, strikes, lay-offs, etc pending the lockdown.
- Give payment of Rs. 8000 per month, every month till the lifting of the lockdown to all workers who are unemployed / rendered unemployed during this period.
- We demand that for MSMEs the government must give support of Rs. 8000 per month for each worker, provided that they pay the full wages to all workers. This may be applicable to all establishments wherein less than 100 workers are employed and whose average (PF) wage is below Rs. 15000 per month (this was also the criterion in the speech of the FM to define small establishments). This will not be an extra expenditure for the Government as these workers come within the 25 crore families to be helped.
- For peasantry :
- The Government must immediately fix Minimum support prices and must make arrangements for procuring the food grains of the peasantry directly at such minimum support prices as the Rabi crop is now due for cutting.
- Immediate help must be given to peasantry by extending the moratorium on loans which has already been declared for 3 months to 6 months. This must cover not just the principal but the interest also. (This means that the banks will get the same emi in September which was to be paid in March and for the same period. Only the payment is deferred).
- Enhance the minimum daily payment to MNREGA workers to Rs. 500, increase the number of days of work to 240, with the central government increasing its support to the states/UTs
- For the urban poor :
- Immediate camps must be set up to allow them to obtain food, medicines and essentials free of cost or at cheap rates in each slum. Such camps must be well stocked and must be the responsibility of the state Government
- Such camps must be in all areas and must be with arrangements for staying. People must have the choice to either stay or obtain food from there.
- All rents must be waived by an ordinance for the period of the lockdown.
- For those who want to go back to their villages, proper arrangements with physical distancing must be made.
- Medical Demands :
- Medical personnel must be provided proper gear and all necessary equipment without stint
- Testing must be increased to around one per thousand of the population. Only such testing will allow for proper control
- The period of lockdown must be used for extensive testing and identifying the sites most vulnerable. The rest of the country can be slowly allowed to come out of lockdown in a scientific manner
- The production of sufficient equipment and drugs must be provided for either by incentives or any other means.
- Millions of Indian workers are stranded in labour camps in the gulf countries. It is reported that infected persons are also living in the same room where upto 20 workers stay. No free treatment is available to them. The governments there have offered all help to evacuate these workers. The Central and state govts should take immediate steps for their earliest repatriation, and arrangement of proper shelters and medical treatment till then.
- When the country is facing a pandemic of unprecedented dimension, most of the burden has come over the poorest sections and the toiling classes . The administration and police should ensure that all atrocities against them should be stopped and that they are treated with compassion. Take action against those who indulged in violence against them.
- We demand that all attempts to create communal division using the isolated Tablighi Jamaat incident,should be stopped.
- As Indian jails are overcrowded, social distancing and treatment for Covid19 is impossible there. We demand that all political prisoners, all under trials and convicted prisoners should be released on parole during the perod of lockdown.
- Utilizing the scarcity created during the lockdown, hoarders, black marketers and speculators are creating further difficulty to people. They should be firmly put down.
- At a time when scientific temper should be strengthened, making people aware to follow scientific medical instructions and hygienic habits, strict action should be taken against all those who spread superstitious ideas. All religious assemblies of more than four, of all denominations, affecting the fight against Covid19 should be strictly stopped.
- We demand that the central government should develop the facilities with the ICMR to develop medicine for this pandemic. India should join the international solidarity of nations headed by WHO in the ongoing coordinated effort to develop anti-Corona vaccine at the earliest.
For the Central Committee, CPI (ML) Redstar
11th April 2020
As the socio-economic crisis arising from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the sudden declaration of lockdown is intensifying very fast. It is also threatening the very sustenance of millions of toiling and oppressed people. Instead of properly addressing this question and announcing an adequate economic package, Prime minister Modi is once again cunningly trying to divert people's attention from the horrific situation by resorting to obscurantist practices that have no scientific basis. If banging vessels and clasping hands were his earlier proposals, today his suggestion is to switch off lights and lighting of torches for 9 minutes at 9 pm on April 5. Together with these, with the backing of corporate-saffron media, concerted efforts are in full swing to target the Muslims and communalize the whole situation by characterizing Corona as “Tabliighi virus” even as all avenues are extended to Majoritarian forces to carry forward their Hindutva programs throughout the country. In this context, we reiterate the following demands to simultaneously confront both, the Corona and the economic pandemic:-
Firstly, rather than planning an extension of present lockdown, immediate arrangements should be made for implementing the screening, testing, isolation method as repeatedly suggested by WHO, especially taking the concrete Indian social situation in to account. Efforts should be taken on a war-footing to test as much as possible of the population free of cost by procuring and developing cheap and portable testing-kits, and involving all private hospitals together with the public sector ones in the country. For this, the centre and state govts should go for take-over of buildings, halls etc held by private and corporate sector, and providing make-shift kitchens and other facilities.
Secondly, make all-out effort for urgent procurement of the required medical equipment for doctors and medical staff, including masks, sanitizers, together with ensuring uninterrupted supply of medicines as required at free of cost to the broad masses. The govt. should ensure the protection of doctors and medical and paramedical staff with adequate pay, allowance and compensation.
Thirdly, in accordance with federal principles, the Centre should take the state govts in to confidence in all initiatives connected with the ‘war against the Corona pandemic’. Especially, in view of the diversities of the country the state govts should have the major responsibility for screening, testing, isolation, quarantine and treatment. The provision of food and medicines to the needy at the local level can be efficiently carried out only by the states for which immediate fund devolution to state governments is an indispensable task on the part of the central regime. At the local/grassroots level, for making food, medicines, shelter and other essential amenities to the needy and for coordinating such activities, the state govts should encourage the formation of peoples committees, involving political parties, trade unions, women’s groups, youth, mass organisations and volunteer forces along with local body representatives.
Fourthly, the 21-day lockdown imposed without any preparation and in gross disregard of the social conditions of India has pushed the migrant and daily workers, slum dwellers, casual and unorganized workers comprising around one-third of Indian population who find it difficult to meet their both ends even in a routine situation in to a horrific condition. Together with them, the already marginalized dalits, adivasis, fisher people, craftsmen, hawkers, kirana-retailers, rag-pickers, etc. are there. Adequate measures are urgently needed for ensuring the livelihood of them who are stranded at various places including towns and urban centres. Immediate steps are required to provide their wages and earnings at least for three months or until the Corona threat is over.
Fifthly, in view of the enormous expenditures especially on the part of the state govts, a sufficient economic/rescue package should be announced immediately by the Central govt. in addition to the meagre one percent of the GST (more than half of which was already incorporated into the current budget through such schemes as employment guarantee) announced by the finance minister. Together with this, the food-stocks with the centre should be urgently released for free distribution through state govts among the poor for whom the hunger virus is more deadly. Further, hoarders, black marketers and speculators in food grains, essential goods should be strictly dealt with. All religious assemblies of more than four, of all denominations, and all other assemblies should be strictly stopped.
Sixthly, the central government should develop the facilities with the ICMR, involving all available expert scientists to develop medicine for this pandemic, instead of waiting for US or China or some others to develop it. India should urgently join with international SOLIDARITY of nations headed by WHO in the ongoing coordinated effort to develop the anti-Corona vaccine at the earliest, instead of clinging to the apron-strings of US. Scientific research on the root-cause of the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its inseparable link with climate change is also needed.
Instead of approaching the COVID-19 pandemic from such a scientific and pro-people perspective and without even mentioning the unprecedented life-threatening situation of the deprived and marginalized, with appeals like switch off lights and light torches, Modi is once again shirking his entire responsibility as the PM. He must at least know that even according to official estimates, 18 % of the 135 crore Indian people (around 25 crore) have no electricity connection and many of those with connection have no regular power supply. By this gimmick, he is once again trying to divert people attention from the badly needed rescue package for appropriate medical intervention and for the survival of the millions of hungry people in this country. During the past six years, through tax-exemptions, direct money transfers, transfer of national assets, creation of NPAs and through a series of stimulus packages, Modi has transferred millions of crores of public money into corporate coffers. So, now in the present grave situation we should demand that a portion of this immense wealth transferred to corporates should be appropriated back to fund the urgent tasks. Instead, Modi’s intention is to put the whole burden of the pandemic on the backs of the already devastated common people. At this critical juncture, we appeal to the working class and all oppressed people, together with all those who stand with them, to come forward to expose and defeat the anti-people maneuvers of Modi regime led by corporate-saffron forces, so that together we can confront the grave challenge from both the corona virus as well as the economic virus.
CPI(ML) Red Star
3rd April 2020
(In consultation with the activists of the People’s Doctors’ and Health Volunteers’ Forum, a proposal for forming village/ town protection committees is sent for your discussion and implementation by uniting with like minded forces wherever possible. As the harvest time has reached, such an action shall be of immense help to the rural masses. It will provide protection for them from the illegal and criminal activities of the police and corrupt government officers which is increasing rampantly utilizing the crisis ridden situation created by the COVID 19 pandemic. Please start implementing it wherever possible according to concrete conditions, in consultation with the people – KN)
You all know that we in India are in the midst of a serious health crisis due to COVID 19 pandemic. COVID is spreading fast throughout the world and by today the number of Americans affected had crossed that of all other countries in the world. Even though the number is relatively low in India, it is bound to affect us very severely soon.
This virus did not come to India from China,. When two months back 200 Indian students were brought back directly from Wuhan, only one student in Kerala tested positive. It mainly came from Europe and America. The government of India could have screened and stopped the epidemic in International Airports, but the chance was lost. Then, the government responded hurriedly, may be after instructions from America, by announcing a Janatha curfew for one day. The curfew was then extended in different states for two days, and then to three weeks from 24th midnight. This curfew is imposed without the minimum arrangements put in place. This had already led to a big havoc. Thousands of students, unorganized workers and migrant labourers were displaced and were thrown out on to the streets. Police started beating everybody indiscriminately, in the name of imposing order to prevent the spread of epidemic. Prices of essential items skyrocketed and are also not available in sufficient quantities. Essential medicines, including surgical spirit and simple masks have disappeared from the market, only to surface later at many times their original price. Government had closed down many hospitals and many private hospitals too got closed down on their own. Stay home, stay home and stay home has become the only manthra.
Modi Government has committed three gross mistakes in this respect. They are:
- Passengers coming from abroad were not screened.
- Indiscriminate and illogical shut down was declared without any preparations.
- Hospitals were either shut down, or not prepared to face the new challenge.
In this hour of crisis, partly because of the virus and mainly because of the anti people central government policies the people of India are thrown into grave danger. To overcome this hitherto unheard of crisis, we appeal to all rural folk to immediately constitute ‘Village Protection Committees” and implement the following policies, in order to protect the villages from COVID19 reaching there, and for protecting from it.
- Isolate your village by strictly initiating surveillance on all new comers.
- Take people from all castes and communities into confidence and initiate widespread discussions. These discussions should happen in a calm and confident way without creating panic to the slightest.
- Educate everybody that safety could only be achieved by collective effort and that safety at individual level is a myth.
- Monitor all sick people and make a register.
- Notify any person if he had the following history.
- Travel abroad
- Travel to a metro or airport
- Contact with a COVID confirmed patient.
- Notify any person if he/she had the following symptoms a. Fever b. Cough c. Breathlessness d. Sore throat 7. Individual hygiene should be popularized. Hand washing technique should be taught and be encouraged to be practised repeatedly in a day.
- Demand the local government for surgical spirit and masks.
- Masks could be easily manufactured in every village. Masks are means of moral support and should be cautioned that they do not offer much protection.
- In the absence of Diagnostic Kits, local doctors should be demanded to provide x-ray and SpO2 facilities.
- A control room should be established in every mandal / cluster of villages. All village protection committees should be in contact with the cluster control room.
- ICMR had authorized the use of Hydroxychloroquine for prophylaxis. Demand the local government authorities to supply them in adequate quantities.
While taking these medical measures, it is of utmost importance to maintain and continue the economic activity of the village. In many areas of the country, it is harvesting season and people cannot avoid work and leave the crops to winds. This would lead to severe economic crisis, one which has broken down in all capitalist countries. No productive activity should be thrown into disarray. In view of the prevailing situation, utmost and scientific precautions should be taught to the whole population at a lightning pace.
We propose the following measures to be taken to keep the productive activity to be running as near to normal as possible.
- All agricultural activities to be continued.
- Nobody should be allowed to gather in larger groups of more than four.
- A distance of one metre should be maintained between every two persons.
- All crops should be harvested and properly secured.
- Marketing should be done collectively taking the village as a unit. Public or private buyers should be allowed into the village once a day and in a planned and secure way.
- All essential commodities should be collected and supplied in a collective way through the Village Protection Committee.
- The requirements should be assessed by the VPC and should be procured with the help of the local governmental agencies.
- Hygiene of the village should be taken up by the VPC and implemented mandatorily and in a collective way.
- Each and every individual should be taken care of economically. Everyone should remember that poverty is the best friend of corona virus.
- Small loans without interest should be arranged for the needy and destitute.
Corona virus has become one of the biggest teachers of humanity. It has become very clear that we can survive and beat back this challenge only collectively and at an international level. It has become very clear that all capitalist economies have crumbled before this pandemic. It has shattered every capitalist country from Italy to America. Only countries that had once raised a red flag in their history could beat back this virus. It is simply because they have a collective consciousness and a resolute approach in times of danger. China, in spite of all its capitalist deviations, had given an example to the world how it had fought with military zeal and contained the virus to Wuhan and finally almost eradicated it from its soil.
Like the capitalist countries in Europe, the US has brought before us another glaring and negative example. America was ridiculing China when its people were facing corona virus at the time of gravest danger, to the extent of slandering that Wuhan people were deprived of freedom and human rights. In the second period, America was trying to sling the mud on China that it did not alert the world community. US went to the extent of trying to name the COVID 19 virus as Wuhan virus, or China virus which was summarily rejected by others in G 12 group. US condemned the positive assessment of WHO on the way Chinese government had confined and controlled the epidemic to Wuhan. In the third phase, the mighty US has started begging other countries for help.
Indian government, which proved to be a junior partner of the Imperialist masters, amassed few lakhs of people to greet President Trump at the end of February 2020, when from 28th January the Kerala government had detected the first COVID case and had alerted the Modi government to take urgent action at all India level to prevent its spread.What Modi government did is a gross violation of WHO guidelines and warnings. And, later as a knee jerk reaction and typical of the ruling class mentality, the Indian government has now imposed 21 days’ curfew on the country which is going to aggravate the situation very badly.
In this hour of crisis, we appeal to all village and small towns’ people to form village or town protection committees to save your own village. For several reasons, villages /small towns will be better centers for showing the way to urban regions.
Do not expect much from the government;
Save your own village/towns.
CPI(ML) Red Star,
dated 27th March.
We are just on the second day of a 21 day enforced lockdown declared by the Government. The Finance Minister has just announced a relief package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crores. At the current rate of exchange this package amounts to $22.7 billion. Compare this with the package of over $2 trillion announced by the USA, or about $ 200 billion announced by UK or even the $ 45 billion announced by Italy (which has an economy much smaller than India). Even the Canadian Government (where the population is 1% of India and less than most major Indian cities) is rolling out $ 27 billion in subsidies and $55 billion in credit to help those affected by COVID 19. Keep in mind that India will have many more people affected by the lockdown, firstly because of its vastly larger population and also because there are a far greater proportion of poor who are in need of relief measures. This clearly shows that the relief measures being announced are woefully inadequate.
Actually even the figure of 1.7 lakh crores is misleading. This includes the amount of Rs.31,000 crores which is already in the fund for benefit of construction workers which the State Governments have been asked to spend for construction workers. This is not a new benefit for construction workers but money which was already provisioned for their benefit.
It also includes Rs. 20 increase in the daily wage of MGNREGA workers. This will only be available to them when they can do the work of MGNREGA, which seems unlikely till the lockdown lasts. There are about 27 crores of MGNREGA workers[i]. Each worker is to benefit by Rs. 2000 in one year (given that he gets the full 100 days of work, which never happens). So 54,000 crores is for the MGNREGA workers. So half of the package – 85,000 crores (31000 crores for construction workers and 54000 crores for MGNREGA workers) is no contribution by the Government at all. In any case, MGNREGA workers were due for a rise in wages, even otherwise. Their rate of wages is among the lowest in the country today.
About 20 crore women who have Jan Dhan accounts will get Rs. 500 per month for 3 months. This amount is too little to provide any real relief. The free LPG connections to the around 4 crores beneficiaries of the Ujjwala Scheme gives each a benefit of about Rs. 2400 (deferred over about 3 months taking one cylinder per month). About 3 crores senior citizens and widows are to be given Rs. 1000 each. Again not a great amount. Besides this BPL households will get each month 5 Kgs of rice or wheat and iKg of dal free. Rural farmers are to get Rs. 2000 each as direct transfers to their accounts in the first week of April. Besides this the PF contribution for workers (both employers and employees shares) for MSMEs will be paid by the Government for the next three months. Take the best case scenario of a farmer who is a woman having a Jan Dhan account and also a widow. She would then get Rs. 3500 and three free gas cylinders for three months and 5 Kgs of rice or wheat and Ikg of pulse. She would get a further Rs 500 per month and another 5 Kg of rice/wheat and 1Kg of pulses for the next two months. This is too meagre an amount to provide any real relief in todays times. The monthly estimate by the 7th Pay commission for a worker’s family of two parents and two children is 42.75 Kgs of Rice/Wheat and 7.2 Kgs of pulses (dals)[ii]. The cost of just food and cloth for such a family was calculated as Rs. 9300 per month as on 1st January 2016. Today, this would translate to well over Rs. 10000. When you declare a total lockdown, it must be assumed that all opportunities for earning are stopped. People will have to depend solely on savings and aid.
The Indian economy before the lockdown was none too healthy. Recent figures had shown that unemployment was at the highest in 45 years[iii]. The GDP growth rate has already fallen to about 4.5% in the third quarter of the current financial year. The stock markets were in a crash mode for almost a year, banks have been turning belly up, the growth in the manufacturing sector was down to around 0.5% in the third quarter. All this shows the ailing health of the Indian economy. The signs were clearly there for the Government or anybody else who wanted to, to read.
In times of recession, it is not the large enterprises which suffer the most. It is the small and medium enterprises which have to bear the brunt, eventually being eaten by the bigger fish. Even more it is the workers in these enterprises who suffer the most. The capitalist can make up his losses just by selling the assets like land, which have appreciated so greatly that he is often left with more than when he started. For the workers – especially the workers in the smaller enterprises and informal sectors, the contract workers, casual workers, self-employed workers, small sellers, small farmers, there is nothing to fall back upon. If the economy is to shut down for a prolonged period of time, it is these workers and farmers who have to be provided for.
What could be done for such workers and farmers? Let us take the workers first. The Government has to ensure that they will be paid their wages for the full period of the lockdown with assurances that their jobs will be retained. How can this be ensured? In the UK, their Chancellor, Rishi Sunak has announced that the Government would pay 80% of wages to employees (till £ 2500 per month) who were not able to work due to COVID 19 in an attempt to see that their jobs are retained. This cover will be backdated to start fr[iv]om the beginning of March and will last for three months and may be extended if necessary, it was announced. Other measures include help to those unable to pay their rents. After this announcement by the Chancellor two further schemes to help business were announced on Tuesday: a new interest-free Business Interruption Loan Scheme for small and medium-sized firms and a Bank of England finance option for bigger businesses. A support package for self-employed people is also expected soon as already announced by the Government.
The USA already has a robust system of unemployment benefits based on what you have earned in the past 12 months and subject to a minimum of 50% of the average. This is to be extended to those who are unemployed due to COVID 19. At the time of writing this the US Senate has just passed a new bill for $1.7 trillion. This includes $1200 direct aid to all individuals who earn below $75000 per year, $250 billion for further unemployment aid including for self-employed and $300 billion for the airlines industry.
Even in Pakistan, Imran Khan yesterday announced a package of Rs. 1.2 lakh crores to help people affected by COVID-19. This is for a population of 20 crores – less than a sixth of India’s population.
About other countries, the Business Standard Article of 20th March had this to say :
- Paid reductions in working time/partial unemployment benefits, which compensate workers for hours not worked, are being expanded or simplified in France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands
- The Chinese government has directed employers to not terminate contract of migrant workers in case of illness or containment measures
- Unemployment insurance benefits have been expanded in several countries, including the United States. In the Philippines, the Social Security Scheme is prepared to give unemployment benefits for up to 60,000 job losses
- Countries like Italy and Japan are giving financial support and simpler procedures for allowing teleworking
- Provisions for paid sick leave for self-employed in Ireland, Singapore and South Korea
In the face of such measures the relief being provided to workers and poor farmers in India is only illusory and a farce! We have to demand. better and more meaningful support. Such measures can also be easily taken. For instance, India may not offer 80% of the wages to workers, but it can certainly say a lesser percentage, say 50%! It not that, it could offer enterprises which keep their workers and give them full pay a tax sop or a moratorium on taxes as an incentive to keeping the workers. It may not be able to give full relief to the farmers but it can certainly set up a Minimum Support Price and can ensure that it itself buys all farm produce at the minimum support price. This is especially important when the Rabi crop is in the process of harvest and is expected to be a bumper crop. This will, of course lead to the question of stocking such produce but that is not a real problem. The FCI godowns today have more stocks than ever before. An article in the Economic Times of 26th March 2020 based on the statement of the Food Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, says that though the norm is to store 21 million tonnes of food grains we now have over 58.49 million tonnes (30,97 million tonnes of wheat and 27.52 million tonnes of Rice). There is nothing to stop the Government from directly sending all this food grain to affected people. It has already agreed to give them meagre amounts like 5 Kgs per month for 16 crore families it only comes to less than 1 million tonnes per month. Why is the Government hoarding food grains at a time like this?
Where is the money for all this to come from? Barclay’s has estimated that the loss to the Indian economy by just the three week lockdown is of the region of $120 billion. We need not spend as large amounts as the US or European. However, we cannot make worries about fiscal discipline stop us from providing needed aid at a time like this. India is today sitting on the largest foreign exchange reserves in history. India has foreign exchange assets of $ 447.3 billion in total reserves of $481.9[v]. Even if the Government were to increase its aid by ten times, this would not even be half of the foreign exchange reserve. Such an amount could give every worker of the 47 crore workers in our country the minimum wage of Rs. 10000 per month for Three months. Even if not this source, in such a crisis any source could be used. Fiscal discipline cannot guide spending in such a time. Germany’s Angela Merkel has said that they will spend whatever is necessary. Same with other countries. We can capitalise (print the money if necessary though such measures may not become necessary) at such a time of crisis. We can worry about inflation later.
Com Sanjay Singhvi is the General Secretary of TUCI
[i] From the MGNREGA website see http://mnregaweb4.nic.in/netnrega/all_lvl_details_dashboard_new.aspx
[ii] See page 65 of the Report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission published here by the Finance Ministry https://www.finmin.nic.in/sites/default/files/7cpc_report_eng.pdf?download=1
[iii] Though the Statistics Secretary, Pravin Srivastava said that the figures were based on a new matrix and new design when the report was released in May 2019, he would not deny that unemployment was at a 45 year high. In any case the Labour Force Participation Rate, which is closely allied confirms that unemployment was at the peak for the past fifty years.
[iv] See the BBC page here for more details https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51982005?xtor=AL-72-%5Bpartner%5D-%5Byahoo.north.america%5D-%5Blink%5D-%5Bnews%5D-%5Bbizdev%5D-%5Bisapi%5D
[vii] According to the Reserve Bank’s weekly supplement of 13th March 2020. See https://m.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_ViewWssExtractdetails.aspx?id=49546
Covid 19 Measures: CPI(ML) Red Star Demands:
Announcement of 21 days Lock down should be followed with providing one month’s wage, food and medi-care for the vast number of poor people.
Prime minister Narendra Modi has announced complete lock down or curfew allover the country for 21 days from the midnight of 24th March in continuation to the Janatha curfew of 22nd March and lock down in most of the areas after that. He claims that according to excellent expert advise this is the only way to save Indian people and their children from the ravage of COVID 19. We do not challenge it at this time when we are engaged in facing the crisis created by the COVID 19. Similarly, when the question of taking up the testing of 10% of the people for COVID19, the question of providing adequate medical kits atleast to all doctors, issuing an ordinance to bring the huge private medical sector under government control etc are not even mentioned in the PM’s speech today, how far we can break the chain is also a disputable question. But, instead of going to these discussions, if the expert advise the PM received demands 21 days lock down, virtual curfew, is needed, we accept it.
But when unemployment had reached a 45 year record, as we had pointed out repeatedly following the 19th March speech of the prime minister, even in today’s speech he has only mentioned Rs 15,000 crore fund for medical preparations. Once again he has not mentioned a economic package to provide food and medical care to the nearly 50% of the 1,34 billion population in the country, who have lost jobs and are very poor. As a result of economic slow down for last few years already unemployment and impoverishment of the vast masses of people had reached dangerous low levels. From 22nd Janatha curfew onwards they are totally jobless. In addition to this, as all train services and inter state bus services are closed down for a week now, many of the migrant workers who wanted to go back are shelter-less also. Due to agrarian distress the condition of the agricultural workers in the rural area is alo very bad. Altogether all these sections amounts to 40-50 crores of people who depend on daily earnings. Following last one week’s loss of job, how can this section survive 21 days of lock down, which the police is asked to implement ruthlessly, and the uncertainty after that? All of them want urgent help for food and other immediate requirements. That is why everybody was expecting an economic package from the PM.
Similarly, as the police is asked to close even district to district transport also what will be the arrangements for uninterrupted supply of food and essential goods? So many questions are left unanswered. It wll create a crisis from day one itself, and if the central and state governments do not take steps urgently, there is going to be enormous starvation deaths and anarchy very soon.
So we demand: (1) Make the government-run healthcare network effective to its full capacity, immediately acquire support of the private-sector healthcare network through an ordinance and get medical kits needed from the doctors to the patients to masses on a massive scale urgently.
(2) The government should organize a COVID-19 fund. Urgently to cover the payment of one month’s pay to all those who lost the job, Rs 5000 to all other poor families along with ration, cost of immediate food, shelter and medi-care for all affected people.
(3) Make arrangements for regular and sufficient supply of food items and all essential services to all people all over the country.
CPI(ML) Red Star.
24th March 2020