Coronavirus | Centre’s approach is sensitive and holistic, says BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav

Bhupender Yadav. File

Bhupender Yadav. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

Bhupender Yadav, the BJP general secretary and party in-charge for Bihar, says the government has taken a sensitive approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic by strengthening infrastructure and reaching out to those in need. In an interview, the Rajya Sabha MP described the ₹20-lakh-crore packaged announced by the Centre as a holistic one benefiting all sectors. Excerpts:

The issue of inter-State workers trying to get home has become a humanitarian crisis amid the medical one of the pandemic. Do you think the government underestimated this factor before calling for a lockdown, or relief work that was on earlier has tapered off?

The crisis unleashed by the coronavirus is a humanitarian one. It is also an unprecedented one. No country was prepared for a pandemic that would confine over 7 billion people to their homes worldwide. The Modi government thus was very sensitive in its handling of the crisis at hand. Within two days of the first phase of the lockdown on March 25th coming into effect, the government announced a ₹1.74-lakh crore relief package aimed at providing a safety net for those hit the hardest — the poor and migrant workers. The package allowed about 800 million people to get free cereals and cooking gas apart from cash through direct transfers for three months. As many as 6.93 crore farmers were benefited through the PM-KISAN scheme that was meant to help them tide over the COVID-19 crisis.

The movement of people was restricted because the government needed time to get the healthcare infrastructure COVID-19-ready. It had to ensure the supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), testing kits and availability of quarantine centres. If movement was allowed without the basic preparations being made, it would have led to an unmitigated disaster. Now that the system is well in place and functional, Shramik trains have been moving since May 1. Over 1,500 trains have ensured the safe return of more than 20 lakh migrants back home. More such trains will continue to run in the short term.

The NDA government in Bihar has been criticised by many for refusing entry to inter-State workers belonging to Bihar earlier. Do you think the criticism was justified?

This is a pure political criticism. Ironically, the criticism is coming from a party whose top leader was not even in the State at a time it was facing one of its biggest crises in history. Over 900 trains of the 1,500 Shramik trains that have been running since May 1 brought Bihari migrants back home. Not only this, the Bihar administration was working for the welfare of people from the State stuck in other States even before the trains started getting them home. The NDA government in Bihar sent ₹1,000 straight to the accounts of more than 18 lakh people of Bihari origin who were stranded in other parts of the country. All those returning are being screened and put up in quarantine centres. Over 7,840 quarantine centres have been opened at block levels in the State to ensure isolation for people who are returning to the State. About 2.33 crore people have benefited under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana with money being transferred direct to their accounts. The Opposition may not be aware of it because its leader was missing from the State until May.

The financial package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has been seen as being too structural and with very little immediate relief offered to the poor. Even the amount is being disputed as being not ₹20 lakh crore but around ₹1.80 lakh crore in actual cash. How do you justify the package?

Prior to the package announced by Nirmala Sitharaman in May, the government package of ₹1.74 lakh had already been rolled out as part of immediate relief. This, let me repeat, was done within two days of the lockdown being announced. The scheme put cash in the hands of the people directly.

The ₹20-lakh crore package aims at making India self-reliant on the five pillars elucidated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his recent address to the nation. The pillars being economy, infrastructure, technology-driven system, vibrant demography and demand.

The package is holistic in its approach and offers stimulus to all sectors from agriculture to MSMEs, to big businesses. The package needs to be seen from a more holistic view point. This view should include the relief offered by the RBI to banks. The banks will in turn pass on the relief to customers. Loan moratoriums and reduced interest on loans are among the schemes that have already been rolled out. These schemes ensure more cash in the hands of people. Remember the economy is now also being given some breathing space with sectors being allowed to open slowly. Trains are running, flights will become operational from May 25.

But the government has to be cautious that in the hurry to open up the economy, it doesn’t allow the virus to have a free run. As the Prime Minister said, “Jaan Bhi, Jahan Bhi”.

You are party in-charge for Bihar, which (in the pre-COVID-19 calendar) was expected to go to polls later this year. What is your assessment with regard to that and how much do you think the way India has elections will change in the era of coronavirus?

The BJP is ready for elections along with its NDA allies. For the alliance, the outlook is great. But the coronavirus will definitely leave an impact on how elections are held and how parties campaign.

Parties will have to move to increased use of digital communication to reach out to masses. The BJP is a step ahead in that game because, under the leadership of Modiji, we have been relying a lot on technology for running our campaigns.

Also, the issues of elections, I believe, will see some change with an increased thrust on public health and green development projects. That is the lesson we need to learn from the pandemic.

The pandemic helped us see nature reclaiming its space with clean rivers and air. Sustainable development will have to be the area that governments will be expected to work upon. The NDA has already been working on that front and will put forth its development agenda with a focus on sustainable development before people.

There is a lot of uneasiness with regard to the changes in labour laws and their suspension by many State governments including BJP State governments. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) has also opposed these moves. What is your view?

The Central government has brought new legislations concerning the four Labour Codes. In these four Labour Codes, 44 extant Labour Acts were merged. Thus, while Code of Wages has already been passed by Parliament, the Standing Committee has submitted its respective reports on Industrial Relations Code and Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code has been submitted. And the Standing Committee on Code on Social Security is to submit its report shortly. The labour laws are very much in congruence with the ILO guidelines and Conventions that we have ratified. In fact, while formulating these Labour Codes, the government is very much conscious of the human dignity, labour welfare and uniform development vis-à-vis the industrial development of the country.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 11:20:41 PM |

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