After former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, it was the turn of their senior party colleague and Member of Parliament Mallikarjun Kharge, on Sunday, to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with suggestions to overcome the COVID crisis. Party president Sonia Gandhi had also put out a note to similar effect last week.
Also on Sunday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to the Prime Minister, seeking greater allocation of oxygen to her state and requesting a tax waiver on COVID related drugs and equipment.
Kharge came up with six suggestions to contain the second wave of COVID which, he wrote in his letter to the PM, had forced “ordinary Indians (to) selling land, jewellery and expending savings to ensure treatment for loved ones”.
Since the Centre seemed to have “abdicated its duties”, ordinary citizens were forced to fight “an extraordinary national battle”, observed Kharge, who is general secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. His six recommendations were:
- Convene an all-party meeting for a “collective and consensual” approach to combat the pandemic.
- Use the ₹35,000 allocated in the Union Budget for this purpose to ensure free COVID vaccination for all.
- Leverage compulsory licensing to increase the production of vaccines.
- Waive GST (goods and services tax) on vaccines and other COVID essentials such as PPE (personal protection equipment) kits, ambulances, ventilators, oxygen equipment and sanitisers.
- Expedite the distribution of relief material, with transparency on where it is shipped.
- Expand MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) to ensure 200 days of wage employment in a financial year, against the current 100.
Mamata moots GST waiver
Joining the chorus of political leaders and non-BJP state heads, Mamata Banerjee on Sunday wrote to Modi, saying her state is staring at a potential oxygen supply crisis. She further sought a tax waiver — including GST, custom duty and other duties — on medical equipment and COVID related drugs such as Remdesivir.
She requested the Prime Minister to ensure universal 100% free COVID vaccination in the country. Further, she urged him to facilitate adequate supply of essential drugs and medical oxygen to West Bengal.
In response to her letter, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a series of tweets that GST and customs duty had already been waived or reduced on various items mentioned by Banerjee. Free vaccination had been ensured for those aged 45 or more, she pointed out.