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Politics India

Sonia Gandhi’s letter puts many official expenditures under the public scanner

Most of these massive expenditures can be now seen as being too lavish and indulgent in the current economic situation

Karuna John 08 Apr 2020

LetterImage Courtesy:economictimes

No sooner was Congress President Sonia Gandhi's  advice to Prime Minister Modi made public, both critics and followers sat up and took notice. Social media, now fuelling news media more than ever, has made everybody online a political observer and commentator.  

Expenditure

Expenditure

The Congress President's response has the tone of a factual report and was a reply to suggestions sought by the prime minister himself. PM Modi had sought suggestions from Opposition parties at a time when the nation may be a few days away from the next stage of the Coronavirus pandemic. However, it has done something bigger. Each of the points she has raised, has put many expenditures under the public scanner. Most of these had been put on the back burner as all political, public, and media focus has been on the Coronavirus pandemic. 

She had suggested five steps, which according to her would help the government to save money and add the funds to the budget needed to deal with the pandemic. Her suggestions were not as simple as they seemed in writing. Each is a critique of massive expenditure that the Narendra Modi-led government has incurred so far, and planned for future projects that the opposition feels should not be a priority.

Topping her list of austerity measures was a “complete ban on media advertisements – television, print and online – by the Government and Public Sectors Undertakings for a period of two years.”  As reported in the Indian Express the only advertisements allowed should be Covid-19 advisories and those on issues relating to public health. “Given that the Central Government currently spend an average of Rs 1,250 crores per year on media advertisements (not including an equal or greater amount spent by PSUs and Government companies), this will free up a substantial amount to alleviate the economic and social impacts of COVID-19,” she is quoted in the IE. She has asked for a two-year ban on this expenditure.

This suggestion got a sharp response from the News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA) which has strongly opposed Sonia Gandhi’s suggestion. According to a report in the economic times the NBA has reacted strongly and issued a statement. The NBA has stated that her suggestion was “highly demoralising”, especially now when the media was out reporting on Covid-19. The statement was also shared by journalist Rajat Sharma, who heads the NBA, called it deplorable. “News Broadcasters Association (NBA) deplores Congress president Sonia Gandhi's suggestion for 2-year ban on govt ads to print, electronic, online media,” he stated.

Expenditure

Gandhi also pointed out the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista ‘beautification’ project, and suggested that it be put on hold.

“At a time like this, such an outlay seems self-indulgent to say the least. I am certain that Parliament can function comfortably within the existing historical buildings. There is no urgent or pressing requirement that cannot be postponed until this crisis is contained. This sum could instead be allocated towards constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnostics along with equipping our frontline workers with Personal Protection Equipment (‘PPE’s’) and better facilities,” she is quoted in news reports.

According to the IE report, Sonia Gandhi also asked the Prime Minister to 'order a proportionate reduction of 30 per cent in the expenditure budget of the Government'. She also pointed out that all the money collected for the ‘PM Cares’ fund be transferred to the ‘Prime Minister's National Relief Fund’. This brand new ‘PM Cares’ fund has been in the spotlight and questions have already been asked about the need for this second fund, and also how even government doctors were being ‘encouraged’ to ‘donate’ to it. Many celebrities, including actors, sports-persons, industrialists have made public declarations of their support and promised big donations to the fund.

Gandhi said “it seems like a waste of effort and resources to have and create two separate silos for the distribution of funds.” She added that the yet to be utilised Rs 3,800 crores of the  PM-NRF, and the additional money from the PM-Cares fund will ensure security to those who need it most urgently.

Her other suggestions also put a critical spotlight on the other big expenditures this government has undertaken on foreign visits by the prime minister, president, vice president and other union ministers, state chief ministers etc. One of the sharpest suggestions include the suspension of international travel by the Prime Minister, as well as other dignitaries. Gandhi put it on record once again that these international trips by the PM,and ministers had cost Rs 393 crore, in the past five years. She suggested that the PM allow travel in special cases, and the money saved can be used for anti-Covid-19 programmes.

Gandhi has, of course, supported the ordinance slashing the salaries of all Members of Parliament by 30 per cent. “Every single Indian has made great personal sacrifices to fight this disease. They have complied with every suggestion, instruction and decision taken by your office and the Central Government. It is time that the legislature and the executive reciprocate this trust and good faith,” she stated.

Sonia Gandhi’s letter puts many official expenditures under the public scanner

Most of these massive expenditures can be now seen as being too lavish and indulgent in the current economic situation

LetterImage Courtesy:economictimes

No sooner was Congress President Sonia Gandhi's  advice to Prime Minister Modi made public, both critics and followers sat up and took notice. Social media, now fuelling news media more than ever, has made everybody online a political observer and commentator.  

Expenditure

Expenditure

The Congress President's response has the tone of a factual report and was a reply to suggestions sought by the prime minister himself. PM Modi had sought suggestions from Opposition parties at a time when the nation may be a few days away from the next stage of the Coronavirus pandemic. However, it has done something bigger. Each of the points she has raised, has put many expenditures under the public scanner. Most of these had been put on the back burner as all political, public, and media focus has been on the Coronavirus pandemic. 

She had suggested five steps, which according to her would help the government to save money and add the funds to the budget needed to deal with the pandemic. Her suggestions were not as simple as they seemed in writing. Each is a critique of massive expenditure that the Narendra Modi-led government has incurred so far, and planned for future projects that the opposition feels should not be a priority.

Topping her list of austerity measures was a “complete ban on media advertisements – television, print and online – by the Government and Public Sectors Undertakings for a period of two years.”  As reported in the Indian Express the only advertisements allowed should be Covid-19 advisories and those on issues relating to public health. “Given that the Central Government currently spend an average of Rs 1,250 crores per year on media advertisements (not including an equal or greater amount spent by PSUs and Government companies), this will free up a substantial amount to alleviate the economic and social impacts of COVID-19,” she is quoted in the IE. She has asked for a two-year ban on this expenditure.

This suggestion got a sharp response from the News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA) which has strongly opposed Sonia Gandhi’s suggestion. According to a report in the economic times the NBA has reacted strongly and issued a statement. The NBA has stated that her suggestion was “highly demoralising”, especially now when the media was out reporting on Covid-19. The statement was also shared by journalist Rajat Sharma, who heads the NBA, called it deplorable. “News Broadcasters Association (NBA) deplores Congress president Sonia Gandhi's suggestion for 2-year ban on govt ads to print, electronic, online media,” he stated.

Expenditure

Gandhi also pointed out the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista ‘beautification’ project, and suggested that it be put on hold.

“At a time like this, such an outlay seems self-indulgent to say the least. I am certain that Parliament can function comfortably within the existing historical buildings. There is no urgent or pressing requirement that cannot be postponed until this crisis is contained. This sum could instead be allocated towards constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnostics along with equipping our frontline workers with Personal Protection Equipment (‘PPE’s’) and better facilities,” she is quoted in news reports.

According to the IE report, Sonia Gandhi also asked the Prime Minister to 'order a proportionate reduction of 30 per cent in the expenditure budget of the Government'. She also pointed out that all the money collected for the ‘PM Cares’ fund be transferred to the ‘Prime Minister's National Relief Fund’. This brand new ‘PM Cares’ fund has been in the spotlight and questions have already been asked about the need for this second fund, and also how even government doctors were being ‘encouraged’ to ‘donate’ to it. Many celebrities, including actors, sports-persons, industrialists have made public declarations of their support and promised big donations to the fund.

Gandhi said “it seems like a waste of effort and resources to have and create two separate silos for the distribution of funds.” She added that the yet to be utilised Rs 3,800 crores of the  PM-NRF, and the additional money from the PM-Cares fund will ensure security to those who need it most urgently.

Her other suggestions also put a critical spotlight on the other big expenditures this government has undertaken on foreign visits by the prime minister, president, vice president and other union ministers, state chief ministers etc. One of the sharpest suggestions include the suspension of international travel by the Prime Minister, as well as other dignitaries. Gandhi put it on record once again that these international trips by the PM,and ministers had cost Rs 393 crore, in the past five years. She suggested that the PM allow travel in special cases, and the money saved can be used for anti-Covid-19 programmes.

Gandhi has, of course, supported the ordinance slashing the salaries of all Members of Parliament by 30 per cent. “Every single Indian has made great personal sacrifices to fight this disease. They have complied with every suggestion, instruction and decision taken by your office and the Central Government. It is time that the legislature and the executive reciprocate this trust and good faith,” she stated.

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