The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) expresses its deep disappointment with the Government of India’s inadequate and irresponsible strategy, unveiled by the Prime Minister in his address today, to fight the fast spreading COVID 19 pandemic. The government has extended the All India lockdown period till May 3, 2020 (with some exceptions to industry after April 20), without providing any further economic package to alleviate the miseries and distress of the people. The address also reveals the utter cluelessness and lethargy that the Union government is displaying in ramping up the economic and health infrastructure to meet the crisis. Rather, Prime Minister Modi has put the onus of fighting the spread of the pandemic on the people of the country, and has not addressed the demands made by women as well as working class and peasant organisations who are helping the ordinary citizens of the country.
India has spent less than 1 per cent GDP on COVID relief, the lowest in the world. This shameful record has led to deep suffering and distress. The government must immediately send the cash transfer to the Jan Dhan and MNREGA accounts. This cash transfer must be increased to Rs 7500 since the lockdown has been extended. Large sections of the population in COVID impacted states are dependent on philanthropic measures for their survival. In his address, the PM tried to push for ‘charity measures’ rather than increased public expenditure for meeting this emergency situation. There was not a word in his speech about giving much more financial help to the states, who are in the forefront of actually fighting this battle, in precarious financial conditions.
The experience of the first phase of the lockdown (24 March to 14 April) has shown that the most vulnerable sections of society are in dire straits. A large number of distress deaths have occurred due to hunger, loss of employment, road accidents, police atrocities, etc. and many migrant and daily wage workers are stranded in unknown places without food and adequate basic amenities.The loss of livelihood of a majority of the workers has also put added pressure on the households, thereby increasing the burden of women significantly. Many households and women participating in self-help groups and home-based work are becoming more and more indebted to meet their daily needs. There is scarcity of essential items and the prices have sky-rocketed. In addition to that there are several reports of increasing domestic and other forms of violence on women.Nurses, doctors and medical staff who are at the frontline of combating the pandemic are also facing shortage of protective equipment. Unfortunately the Prime Minister ignored all these relevant and burning issues in his speech.
In the light of this abject policy failure AIDWA demands:
1. Immediate provision of free rations, medicines and other necessities without making APL-BPL discrimination. Urgent steps to control the prices of all essential commodities.
2. Any economic recovery package of the government should have a focus on the most vulnerable sections - particularly women, children, elderly and the disabled.
3. Moratorium on all existing debts and all further loans should be interest free. The economic recovery package of the government should provide for debt waivers.
4. Appointment of dedicated women counsellors and police to address rising issues of domestic violence through transparent protocols and alternative arrangements for shelter and economic support to victims of domestic violence.
5. Free testing and medical facilities for all, irrespective of whether they are enrolled in Ayushman Bharat or not.
6. Regulation (not request as in the PM’s address) to protect jobs and salaries of women workers and all workers in informal employment. Helplines to address their needs. Adequate support to our ‘annadata’ farmers and agricultural workers who are also bearing the brunt of lockdown.
7. Dedicated helplines and ramping up infrastructure to support stranded migrant workers, both women and men along with their children; special transport facilities to enable them to get home.
8. Protecting the supply chains and ramping up production of protective equipment for medical staff, nurses and doctors as well as sanitation workers.