Mamata Banerjee would do well to keep these 9 points in mind while playing coronavirus politics, writes BJP’s policy research wing member
The West Bengal government headed by Mamata Banerjee is perhaps the only state government which is displaying a peculiarly negative attitude in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic
The Trinamool Congress government headed by Mamata Banerjee is perhaps the only state government which is displaying a peculiarly negative attitude in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken of the “Team India” spirit, Banerjee is the only one, holding daily press conferences in order to tell people – not so much of the steps she and her administration are taking to tackle the coronavirus threat, but to make claims on how she and her state are being discriminated against.
It is therefore necessary to set the record straight on some issues and remind the West Bengal chief minister of her duties too:
I. The Government of India allowed states to borrow an additional Rs 58,000 crore in March last year as a special dispensation, to compensate them for lower tax receipts.
During the borrowing year 2020-21, which began in April, states are allowed to borrow Rs 7,00,000 crore. The borrowing limit is set at 3 percent of GSDP of states, as per Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act.
Considering the emergency due to COVID-19 outbreak, states are allowed to raise half of the approved amount, equivalent to 1.5 percent of GSDP, immediately.
Future decisions will be taken at an appropriate time.
Having said that it is pertinent to point out that West Bengal is one of the most indebted states of the country with per capita borrowing increased from Rs 21,000 in 2011-12 to Rs 47,000 in 2019-20.
The state's finances are precarious and it is advisable that the Mamata Banerjee government remains cautious about the pitfalls of unrestricted borrowings and limits unnecessary expenditures like donation to clubs across every locality in every district across the state.
II. Under GST law, states were guaranteed to be compensated for any loss of revenue in the first five years of GST implementation, beginning 1 July, 2017. The compensation is paid based on an agreed formula. The Modi government didn’t deny its responsibility despite such a global catastrophe.
The Government of India is working on a war footing to save Indian citizens from COVID-19 outbreak and restart/revive the economy in the face of looming global recession.
Mamata is ought to realise that India is an inspiration to the world economy in this COVID-19 fight and should, therefore, cooperate with the central efforts to safeguard national interests.
III. The government is putting up an all-round effort to reduce the plight of Indian citizens in the face of an unprecedented global crisis. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a Rs 1,70,000 crore package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana on 27 March — within two days of the lockdown — as an immediate measure to save migrant workers, farmers, urban and rural poor and women. This is a direct benefit package and is 1 percent of the national GDP.
IV. Isolation in government facilities is free.
The Government of India has ensured that COVID-19 patients get free treatment under the Ayushman Bharat scheme; floated by the prime minister in September 2018 for the bottom 40 percent of India’s population. Approximately 50 crore Indians benefit from the scheme.
It is unfortunate that the Mamata Banerjee government did not participate in the scheme causing hardship to the people of Bengal. It may be immensely useful, if her global advisers can ask the chief minister to amend her decision and let the poor people of West Bengal enjoy the benefits of Ayushman Bharat.
This apart, the Insurance Regulatory Authority of India (IRDAI) mandated (4 March) that all health insurance policies will cover COVID-19 . The government has also restricted the price of COVID-19 test to a maximum of Rs 4,500 for private hospitals.
Besides, all central PSUs and Central Government agencies are contributing generously in creating COVID-19 Hospitals across India. Together with the government hospital network run by the Centre and states, Indians are duly covered for the treatment of COVID-19 .
V. The government is supplying PPE kits of international standard and as per benchmarks set by international agencies.
But the reported misuse of such kits is of concern. As per media reports, a West Bengal minister was recently seen parading down the streets wearing an expensive PPE, which was meant specifically for the core health staff coming in direct contact with COVID-19 patients. Such misuse should be avoided.
Also, international standard PPE kits come in colour schemes set as per international standards. It was unfortunate to see Mamata Banerjee kicking up a storm on the colour scheme of such protective gears.
VI. The Government of India and RBI have already announced a number of measures, including moratorium, on installment payments to help businesses tide over the crisis without resorting to layoffs.
Under PM Garib Kalyan, the government undertook the responsibility of PF contribution of both the employees and employers for smaller businesses. The scheme will safeguard interests of 4.8 crore employees.
The government is also working to minimise the impact of this global crisis and is directly talking to all stakeholders including chief ministers, MPs and leaders of all political parties.
Banerjee should participate in such discussions. It was unfortunate to see her skipping tele-conferences with the prime minister last week.
VII. India witnessed good Kharif production and is now harvesting summer crops. There is no shortage of food grains in the country. So, the question of opening buffer stock does not arise. The country is well-stocked to meet emergencies, as and when it arises.
Banerjee would do well to take steps against reported misuse of the food grains channeled through the public distribution system (PDS).
Reports indicate that there is gross misuse of PDS depriving the poor of their quota of food.
TMC members and local bodies representatives have been pilfering provisions from fair price shops only to distribute them in their party’s name. Token crackdown is insufficient.
VIII. The government is also working to minimise the hardships created by this global health emergency-led economic crisis. It is an evolving situation both globally and nationally and decisions will be taken at the right time.
IX. It is high time that the West Bengal government adopts a cooperative approach and shares responsibilities with the Centre. The first national priority today is to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time to manage the health situation better in the state.
Recent reports of mismanagement of COVID-19 patients in at least two state hospitals in West Bengal, leading to quarantine of over 100 health staff including doctors, nurses, etc, is worrying. It will only increase the pressure on the entire system in this trying time.
These are crucial points that require and demand action, not politics in the time of Corona.
The author is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi, and a member of the BJP’s policy research department
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