By Hardeep Puri
Since March 26, Operation Lifeline Udan has carried 885 tonnes of critical medical supplies and essential cargo over 500,000 km through 546 flights to the remotest destinations in the country. Under the Vande Bharat Mission, as the first schedule dovetails into the second schedule of flights, the Government of India (GoI) plans to bring 50,000 stranded Indians back to the country by the end of May.
India was among the first to wake up to the threat of the pandemic by screening passengers, stopping flights and enforcing a nationwide lockdown. When the nation emerged as a prescient and responsible nation globally in having taken pre-emptive measures to stop the spread of the virus, the Opposition called the lockdown sudden, harsh and unilateral. If it was not for the lockdown, we would have found ourselves in the same boat as many of the more developed nations where more than thousands have been dying every day.
Even as GoI initiated immediate support to farmers, construction workers, poor women, elderly, laborers, low-salaried workers and other vulnerable sections under the ~1.7-lakh crore Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan package, the Opposition suggested that the government doesn’t care for the poor. Several facts such as the approval of 6.3 million loans worth ~86,600 crore in agriculture between March 1 to April 30, and an additional allocation of ~40,000 crore under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme as compared to last year, to benefit wage seekers fly in the face of such falsehood.
When the details of the ambitious and holistic package extending several innovative measures for MSMEs, at the cost of over ~6 lakh crore were announced, prominent members of the Opposition changed the goalpost, suggesting that no measures had been taken for migrant workers. In their zeal to criticize, they were perhaps blind to the fact that most migrant workers are in fact employed in MSMEs, and these steps would benefit them.
The next day, when specific measures to assist our migrant workers by giving them one-nation, one-ration card for access to Public Distribution Scheme (PDS), affordable rental housing through public-private partnership, interest subvention for the Mudra Shishu Loans and credit for street vendors were announced, some Opposition members tried to belittle them by suggesting that street vendors do not go to banks for credit and take loans at 1% per day.
The government will partner with non-banking financial companies, microfinance institutions and banks to extend working capital loans to street vendors, and interest subvention scheme under the Deendayal Antoyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission will be worked out to reward vendors for good repayment behavior and upscale their entitlement for bigger loans.
Changing track, some Opposition members have held that easy loans for MSMEs do not constitute a stimulus as a loan is normal banking practice and only fiscal measures count. But people understand that a stimulus is anything that helps people, especially getting their businesses back on their feet.
Similar intellectual ineptitude has been shown in response to the prime minister’s call to undertake far-reaching land, labor, liquidity and legal reforms to make India self-reliant by leveraging demand in the country.
As more steps are announced for the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan , the Opposition will be further exposed.
(Hardeep Puri is the Union Aviation Minister. The article appeared in The Hindustan Times)