The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the State Disaster Response Fund’s (SDRF) Rs 29,000 crore kitty are playing an exemplary role in reaching out to the needy, including helping thousands of migrant workers left stranded by the thoroughly incompetent Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi. In sharp contrast, the super-efficient Modi government is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring free food, water and shelter to the landless daily wage earners, across the length and breadth of the country.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is producing 20,000 masks a day, while the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) force is looking after quarantined people at its Chhawla facility in Delhi, besides helping in the distribution of food, to people in places like Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. The central government-owned aerospace and defence company, Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), will be producing 30,000 ventilators.
Under Indian Railways, 1.25 lakh wagons transporting essential commodities, such as food grains, sugar, salt, coal, petroleum, etc, have been operated in the last 5 days alone. On his iconic, interactive programme, “Mann Ki Baat”, in a sterling show of humility, Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologised to the nation for the hardships faced during the lockdown but reinforced in no uncertain terms that the lockdown is a necessity, to contain the spread of COVID-19.
That 113 fully dedicated testing labs and 47 private labs are working 24/7, with over 35000 tests conducted already, is a glowing reflection of how India’s fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, is gaining momentum. In a nutshell, Modi’s clarion call to fight Coronavurus unitedly has not only brought together various arms of the government but more importantly, evoked extremely positive reactions and generous contributions from every section of the society, towards the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) fund.
All MPs and MLAs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will donate their one-month remuneration/salary to the central relief fund to support the fight against COVID-19. All MPs of BJP will also release Rs 1 crore from their MPLADS fund to the central relief fund in the fight against COVID-19, said J P. Nadda, the dynamic, national president of the BJP and the man who is working 24/7, to ensure that the party is at the forefront in helping the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the society. BJP is represented by 386 MPs – 303 in Lok Sabha and 83 in the Rajya Sabha. An MP gets Rs 5 crore every year as part of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). BJP is not the largest party in the world for nothing—in the war against Coronavirus, its 1 crore dedicated karyakartas have been feeding 5 crore people daily during the lockdown via authenticated community kitchens, that are linked to booths and “Shakti Kendras”.A “Shakti Kendra” is a cluster of four to six booths.
It is important to mention here that while the UP government has waived off rent for the current month for migrant labourers in many parts of the state, in view of the ongoing lockdown, the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi has been hurtling from one disaster to another. And this, despite announcing a lockdown in Delhi even before the central government did so and, having ample time to prepare for the lockdown related fall-out, if any.
Needless to add, if there is one politician who has once again showcased all that is wrong with his politics, which is bereft of any empathy or sympathy for the underprivileged, it is the wily Arvind Kejriwal. After threatening to cut off the electricity and water connections of migrant daily wage earners from Uttar Pradesh(UP), working in the Delhi National Capital Region (Delhi NCR) and, then packing them off like a bunch of sardines in Anand Vihar bound Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses, Kejriwal had the galling audacity to blame the UP administration.
Kejriwal’s botched up handling of the Chinese Coronavirus in 2019, is a nasty reminder of how he let down the people of Delhi in 2016 when the city was plagued by Dengue and Chikungunya. Despite more than 1000 cases and 4 deaths, in September 2016, at the peak of the Dengue inflicted crisis in Delhi, Kejriwal was confined in the plush Jindal clinic at Bengaluru for a minor throat infection for 10 days. His deputy, Manish Sisodia, was galavanting in Finland to study some obscure education system, Satyender Jain was in Goa, while Labour minister Gopal Rai was in Chhattisgarh and, Environment minister Imran Hussain, was on a Haj pilgrimage. Kejriwal and virtually his entire cabinet was missing in action in 2016. In 2020, they are again not in action, but in the news, for all the wrong reasons.
It is time to realise that as per the spirit of List-2, 7th Schedule, Article 246 of the Constitution, functioning of “public health, sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries” fall under the aegis of the Arvind Kejriwal government. Hence the Chief Minister of Delhi has no room to make any excuses for his absolutely dismal handling of the lockdown, which smacks of administrative harakiri and also, his reportedly strong dislike for Purvanchali migrants.
Why is the media not questioning Kejriwal about hospitals and dispensaries which are not adequately equipped with ventilators in ICUs and special wards? Why is he not being held accountable for shortages in medical personnel, including specialists, doctors, nursing staff and others, to treat those affected by COVID-2019? Why has the media not questioned the irresponsible Kejriwal even once, for the 226 odd residents from the Nizamuddin Basti, who are believed to have attended a gathering of the “Tableeghi Jamaat”, an Islamic missionary movement, at a nearby mosque and, are now reportedly suffering from Coronavirus? Had it not been for Amit Shah’s meticulous eye for detail and the excellent work done by the Delhi police which has deployed drones for aerial surveillance, to ensure prohibitory orders are not breached, timely action in Nizamuddin to help the hapless residents, would not have happened. How can the Chief Minister of Delhi simply crave for the trappings of power, without any accountability?
In today’s war-like emergency situation, state governments must set-up temporary “hospital bays” at district headquarters, to accommodate the afflicted. Gujarat has done a stellar job of setting up 3000 isolation beds, while another 2900 beds are coming up in the next few days. UP has transformed a school in Ghazipur into a quarantine centre,with all relevant facilities and transferred Rs 612 crore directly into the bank accounts of 27.5 lakh MNREGA workers. Odisha too is doing a good job. Kerala, with over 200 cases, unfortunately, is a disaster.
Hundreds of migrant workers belonging to Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and the North East were left stranded in Kottayam district with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, turning a deaf ear to their woes. Interestingly, large swathes of India’s otherwise vocal, leftist media, kept a stoic silence under the sham of neutrality, not once, putting the Kerala CM on the mat.
When the entire country has come together as one under its most popular leader ever in post-independent India, “karmayogi”, Narendra Modi, Kejriwal has been spending most of his time making false promises, holding inane press conferences aimed at self-promotion and in a mark of embarrassing insensitivity, the Chief Minister of Delhi has been blaming all and sundry but himself, for risking the lives of thousands of migrant workers who were left stranded at Anand Vihar ISBT, which incidentally caters to UP, Bihar and Uttarakhand.
While Kejriwal was giving sound bytes to a servile and sycophantic,left-leaning, TRP hungry media, that failed to call the bluff of this callous “Muffler Man”, the UP State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) continued to ferry those stranded at Anand Vihar bus terminus, to their destinations from different areas of Kaushambi ISBT in Ghaziabad and, places like Gautam Budh Nagar, after duly thermal screening them and quarantining where needed.
The rush of people wanting to go back home, thanks to Kejriwal’s utterly mala-fide mishandling of the lockdown in Delhi, meant that social distancing quickly went out of the window, at the bus terminals. The horrific conduct of large sections of the Indian press which should have questioned and criticized Kejriwal’s hare-brained idea, were busy singing paeans about his governance failure and as expected, wrongfully, blaming Modi for it.
Another area where media’s serious lapses in reporting came to light, pertains to the cost of the Chinese Wuhan virus-related tests. These tests are done for free at government hospital laboratories in India. Recently, the government has allowed NABL-accreditated private laboratories to conduct the tests by charging no more than Rs 4500. Pune-based Mylab has recently got commercial approval by the Indian FDA/Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for an affordable coronavirus testing kit, to be roughly priced at Rs 1200 and, will hit the stores in a couple of days.
In contrast, US Medicare has released prices of Covid-19 tests, which is $35.92 (Rs 2,729) for tests developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) and, $51.33 (Rs 3,900) for all other commercial tests. Sri Lanka has allowed private hospitals to conduct Covid-19 tests for a maximum cost of Rs 6,000, while in China, this test which is not free, costs 370 yuan, which is roughly Rs 4000. Also, in both US & UK, diagnostic kits which are in acutely short supply, are being sold at steep markups in the grey market, once again confirming how the Modi government is way ahead of western nations, hitherto perceived as pioneers in affordable healthcare.
Last week, to further alleviate the financial stress arising out of the Coronavirus lockdown, the government announced a massive Rs 1.7 lakh crore relief package aimed at providing a safety net for that hit the hardest. About 800 million people will get free cereals and cooking gas apart from cash through direct transfers, for three months.
Under “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana”, higher wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Rs 1000 ex-gratia payment to nearly 30 million poor senior citizens, widows and disabled, as well as insurance coverage of as much as Rs 50 lakh each for about 2 million healthcare workers battling the Wuhan virus-related ailment, are some of the measures being deployed.
The Modi government will provide 5 kg of wheat or rice and 1 kg of pulses free every month, for the next three months. Besides, 204 million women “Jan Dhan” account holders will get Rs 500 per month for the next three months. MGNREGA wages will rise to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182 currently, to benefit 136.2 million families. The added focus on women including 630 million Self Help Groups (SHGs), across schemes, is indeed heartening.
The government said it would for the next 3 months, pay the entire provident fund contribution of those who earn less than Rs 15,000 per month in companies having less than 100 workers as they are at risk of losing their jobs. That amounts to 24% of basic pay, 12% from the employee and 12% from the employer. In addition, the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) regulations will be amended to include the Coronavirus pandemic as grounds for allowing employees, a non-refundable advance of up to 75% of the corpus or three months of wages, whichever is lower, from their accounts.
A measure that did not get enough media attention, which it should have, is the Modi government’s decision, with effect from March 2020, whereby, the price of non-subsidised LPG cylinder was reduced by Rs 50 to Rs 776.5, for a 14.2 kg cylinder in Mumbai and by Rs 50, to Rs 805.50, for an LPG cylinder, in New Delhi. In February 2020, the subsidy amount under the PAHAL scheme was almost doubled from Rs 153.86 per cylinder to Rs 291.48 per cylinder. In Union Budget 2020, the provision for subsidised fuel was increased, especially LPG and kerosene, by 6% to Rs 40915.21 crore for the next fiscal.
The Modi government had also, recently announced a hike of 4% in Dearness Allowance (DA), from 17 % to 21%, on 13 March 2020, with retrospective effect from 1st January 2020, at a cost of Rs 14500 crore, in a move that would benefit 48 lakh government employees and 65 lakh, pensioners.
What, however, caught the attention of everybody, was the bazooka unleashed by the Modi government on 27th March 2020. All commercial, regional, rural, NBFCs and small finance banks are being permitted to allow a 3-month moratorium on payment of instalments in respect of all term loan-related, Equated Monthly Instalments (EMIs), outstanding as on 31st March 2020. And all this, without any hit on the credit score. EMIs will resume after the moratorium period gets over.
Auction of Targeted Long Term Repo Operations (TLTROs) of 3-year tenor for a total amount Rs 1 lakh crore at a floating rate linked to the policy rate, reduction of Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) for all banks by 100 basis points from 4% to 3%, that will release Rs 1.37 lakh crore into the banking system, accommodation under the Marginal Standing Facility (MSF), to be increased from 2% of Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR) deposits to 3% with immediate effect, till 30th June 2020, reduction in Repurchase Rate (REPO) by 75 basis points from 5.15% to 4.4% and reverse REPO by 90 basis points, from 4.9% to 4%, are measures that will make available a total Rs 3.74 lakh crore, akin to almost 2% of India’s GDP, to the country’s financial system. These decisions are intended to (a) mitigate the negative effects of the Wuhan virus; (b) revive growth and above all, (c) preserve financial stability.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), conducted a cumulative reduction in the policy REPO rate, by 135 basis points in 2019. Two USD buy/sell swap auctions of USD 5 billion each were conducted on 26th March and 23rd April 2019, injecting liquidity into the banking system amounting to Rs 34561 crore and Rs 34874 crore, respectively. Seven Open Market Purchases (OMOs), injected Rs 92500 crore into the system, last year.
Four simultaneous purchase and sale of government securities under Open Market Operations (special OMOs or what is known as Operation Twist) during 23rd and 30th December 2019 and, again on 6th and 23rd January 2020 to ensure better monetary policy transmission, infused confidence into the system. Five Long Term Repo Operations (LTROs) between 17th February and 18th March 2020 for one-year and three-year tenors amounting to Rs 1.25 lakh crore added to the durable liquidity at a reasonable cost. (fixed repo rate).Two 6-month US Dollar sell/buy swap auction providing dollar liquidity amounting to USD 2.71 billion in March 2020.
The amount under the Standing Liquidity Facility (SLF) available for standalone primary dealers was enhanced from Rs 2800 crore to Rs 10000 crore on 24th March 2020 and, this will be available till 17th April 2020. Under the new Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF) corridor, the reverse REPO rate would be 40 basis points lower than the policy REPO rate, as, against 25 basis points, that was the case till now. The marginal standing facility (MSF) rate would continue to be 25 bps above the policy REPO rate.
It was also decided to reduce the requirement of minimum daily CRR balance maintenance from 90% to 80%, effective from the first day of the reporting fortnight beginning 28th March 2020. This is a one-time dispensation available up to 26th June 2020. Liquidity availed under the TLTRO scheme by banks, has to be deployed in investment-grade corporate bonds, commercial paper and non-convertible debentures over and above the outstanding level of their investments in these bonds as on 25th March 2020. Eligible instruments comprise both primary market issuances and secondary market purchases, including from mutual funds and non-banking finance companies. Investments made by banks under this facility will be classified as Held To Maturity (HTM), even in excess of 25% of total investment permitted to be included in the HTM portfolio, currently.
By far, extending the repayment schedule for term loans and working capital loans as also the residual tenor, that will be shifted across the board by three months, due to the moratorium period on EMIs, announced by the RBI, has been a defining move. Term loans and working capital facilities include all term loans (including agricultural term loans, retail and crop loans), all commercial banks (including regional rural banks, small finance banks and local area banks), co-operative banks, all-India financial institutions, and NBFCs (including housing finance companies) are permitted to grant a moratorium of three months on payment.
In respect of working capital facilities sanctioned in the form of cash credit/overdraft, lenders are permitted to defer the recovery of interest applied in respect of all such facilities during the deferment period.”But the accumulated accrued interest shall be recovered immediately after the completion of this period,” the RBI said, on 27th March 2020.
Last but not the least, it would be apt to conclude by saying that, the 21 day India lockdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a bona fide and bold move, which only a leader of Modi’s towering stature has the ability to execute, so seamlessly. While there are over 34000 deaths and over 7.23 lakh confirmed cases globally, with over 142000 cases in the USA, over 97600 cases in Italy and over 81400 cases in China, as on 29th March 2020, India has been able to restrict the confirmed cases to just a little over 1000. And that is certainly not a mean feat! In New York, for instance, there is a Coronavirus related death, every 9.5 minutes. Just to put things in perspective, New York City(NYC), has a population of roughly 8.7 million people whereas a single state in India, Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has a population in excess of 200 million. That should give some contextual reference to Modi naysayers, who have been questioning the need for a lockdown. It is in fact, because of the lockdown, more than anything else, that we are able to avoid the pitfalls of this landmine called, COVID-19.
Yes, there will be disruptions and normal life as we know it, in this time of social and physical distancing, may never be the same again. That said, in the post-COVID-19 world, while a destructive Kejriwal will be shunned for his rabid politics of opportunism, Modi will go down in history as a fearless leader who sacrificed transient comfort and financials, for the greater good and well being of 1.37 billion people. Economies can be re-built, broken balance sheets can be repaired and, GDP growth will come back too. But when the scourge of a global pandemic sweeps through, it is the safety and security of the citizenry, that matters most. Because a life once lost, is lost forever. As they say, what is the use of locking the stable door, after the horse has already bolted out? Well, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lockdown befittingly answers that question, in more ways than one.
Ms Sanju Verma is an Economist, Chief Spokesperson for BJP Mumbai and, Author of the Bestseller, “Truth &Dare–The Modi Dynamic”.
(Disclaimer: The views in the article are her own and do not reflect those of DNA)