Q. What is your assessment on the Rs 20 lakh crore package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman?
A. The movement is in the right direction, there is no doubt about that. But the budget has not dealt with the immediate issues. What the government could have done was to immediately resolve the problems of migrant labourers and not let them on the roads of the country.
I am strongly advocating that we should immediately deploy the armed forces with all means and ensure that the workers are treated with dignity and not with indignity which is being heaped upon them by the police. They should be properly fed, given medical attention and if there is political will, there will not be a single labourer on the road in the next 24 hours. These are the immediate problems. We can deal with economic reforms and give the country a direction later.
Q. The government has announced “One Nation, One Ration Card” system to provide food to migrant labourers. How much of this is the responsibility of states? Do you see states and the Centre coming together during this crisis?
A: Where is “working together” happening? The Government of India and the ruling party are blaming the state governments. In return, the states are blaming the Central government. They should work together. Let ‘Team India’ — all the states together — come into operation. The trains that are made available will not suffice unless we press into services and use massive resources like trains, buses, trucks, or whatever is avail.
Q. The controversy is whether this relief package should be a fiscal package or a monetary package. Where do you stand on this?
A: The problem of the Indian economy in the last two years was a collapse in demand. That demand further collapsed and now it has vanished. What we needed were final measures to increase the demand in the economy, not long-term monetary measures which may not even trickle down to the poorest of the poor. What we need is food and money in the hands of the people.
I am happy that the Finance Minister has raised the allocation for MGNREGA by Rs 40,000 crore. The states should give employment to every able person who’s ready to work. They should pay their wages and a part of it can be given as food grains also. We are sitting on millions of tonnes of food grains. We should bring money in the pockets of people to increase demand in the economy. I don’t see this package working. In addition, the Kisan Samman Yojna is an existing, ongoing scheme. What is new in all of this?
Q.A lot of money announced in budgets go unspent. If we can front-load it and spend it quickly, can that be an effective way to provide money and run the economy? What is your view?
A: I have no objection in front-loading. Budget is the beginning of the financial year, even though I believe all the budgetary allocations have lost their significance. In the last five days, the Finance Minister has presented a new budget before the country. The point is how are we going to give cash in the hands of the poorest of the poor. I am not only talking about migrant labourers. I am only talking about the daily wagers who work for the day and eat in the evening. They all are starving.
Q. What are the solutions?
A. My solution is to give employment to all migrant labourers who are on the roads right now. Employment should be given in urban as well as rural areas. They should be made to engage in productive activities and should be paid their wages.