If Government is insensitive towards masses, Congress will point out; Congress is not playing politics'
In these times of crisis, the Congress party would continue to cooperate and join hands with the Government but will point out in case the government does a 'faux pas' or 'does not apply its mind', Pradyut Bordoloi, Vice President of Assam Congress and MP from Nagaon said speaking exclusively to The sentinelassam.com. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Sentinel Assam: The stress and agony of the current pandemic is of course there, but what pains you the most during these times?
Pradyut Bordoloi: Figh-ting the pandemic is one thing, the most painful situation today that we are in is the most unprecedented exodus of the working people. The plight of these people is unimaginable. That is something that is probably the most painful thing at the moment. We have to be proactive and reach out to these people. It is a human tragedy actually.
Sentinel Assam: According to you how best could have the migrant workers' issue been handled?
Pradyut Bordoloi: I would like to give you an example of the neighbouring country Bangladesh. When Bangladesh decided to have this lockdown, they gave at least three days' notice, they were given time to move to their homes or wherever they wanted to. There was adequate notice given. In India, the magnitude of the problem is so huge unfortunately our Prime Minister or the Government of India did not foresee this and there was no advanced planning. Suddenly the Prime Minister announced that within the next few hours the lockdown will be in place. All of a sudden crores of migrant workers were stranded. It was the utter lack of advanced planning and lack of understanding of the human dimensions of the lockdown and that has cost us dearly.
Sentinel Assam: You have given an estimate of the amount of money that migrant workers send back home and Assam gets as inward remittances. What is the point you are trying to make?
My estimate is a very conservative one because in 2008, Government of Assam had carried out a survey of people from Assam working outside. I was the Industry and Commerce minister of Assam at that time and its my department that carried out the survey. The figure that we arrived at was 9 lakh. Ten years later, I am sure the figure has gone up progressively. Realising the problem, the Assam government had come up with the Missed Call app. According to the spokesperson of Assam government, nearly 7 lakh people registered in this app. Most of us MPs from the Northeast got stuck here in Delhi because Parliament was in session when the lockdown was announced and we are nor coordinating and helping most of these hapless people who are stranded across the country. Many of the people are telling us that they have not been able to register themselves in this app. So maybe 50 per cent people got themselves registered that is why the Minister quoted a figure of 10 lakh but according to my estimates it would be 14-15 lakh. Whatever be this number, my point is every year Assam gets a lot of money as inward remittances from these migrant workers who send money to their families back home. Taking the conservative figure of 10 lakh migrant workers, if they send even Rs 3000 each to their families every month it would come to a total of about Rs 300 crore every month and in a year, it would be Rs 3,600 crore. But some migrant workers informed that they send a minimum of Rs 5,000 every month. But the moot point here is Assam economy is regularly strengthened and has been kept vibrant by this money coming from outside. Now these people are in dire strait and most importantly, many have lost their jobs and they have exhausted all their savings. The Assam government should immediately bring back these people because it the state government's responsibility.
Sentinel Assam: But after you bring them back home, what next? What about their livelihoods?
Pradyut Bordoloi: Let me tell you the kind of calls we are getting and why I am saying that these migrant workers should be brought back home. Some of them are calling us and saying that they are surviving on water during the day time and evenings they try to get some food from somewhere if possible. They should be brought back now and once things normalise many of them would go back. Any sensitive government would bring them back.
I do not want to sound political here, but when MNREGA was introduced by the earlier government, it was laughed at and ridiculed by Mr Narendra Modi when he took over as the Prime Minister. Now they are falling back on this same MNREGA to tackle the migrant workers problem. So, when these migrant workers come back home the government will have to provide some kind of livelihood to them, some support has to be provided to them. Some money has to directly come into the hands of these people. There are 13 crore families registered with the Jan Dhan account. Government should immediately transfer Rs 7,500 in these Jan Dhan accounts and this would be less than one lakh crore. We do not need 20 lakh crores now. Of course, it is important to revive the economy but economic activity will get revived only from the bottom. It is only when you put money in the hands of the people will demand happen.
Of course, MSMEs need the support, manufacturing sector and industries need the support but in a distress situation the larger population will not buy cars or a fridge they need the essentials and money in hand to buy provisions.
Sentinel Assam: Your fellow party man, Gaurav Gogoi has said that this is not the time to play politics but time to put minds together and come out with positive, concrete ideas. How much of this is the Congress practicing?
Pradyut Bordoloi: Congress party has a very honourable intention. From the very beginning we have been very clear that we want to cooperate and give our active cooperation to any effort by the government to tackle the situation. But when the government is insensitive to the plight of these people, government is not applying its mind, not doing anything, that is the time when the Congress party has to point out and tell them that they have to change the course and reach out to these people. We are not doing politics. Politics is the least of our intentions at the moment and politics will not give us any solution at the moment. We want to cooperate, join hands with the government but if the government does a faus pax then it is our duty to point out. Like I said at the very beginning, this government does not have proper planning, they whimsically do things only to negate later and revise it.
Sentinel Assam: Are you concerned about the rising number of COVID cases in Assam now?
Pradyut Bordoloi: From the very beginning I have been trying to make this point that we have to increase the number of tests being done and the testing facilities. Let us do random testing, ramp up the testing. Only then we will know the real magnitude of the problem. There has been a spurt in the number of cases in Assam. We should not open up everything at one go. COVID is still here. We have to tackle it methodically and scientifically. I know Assam government's hands are full, it is tough to handle the situation that we are in. Do not take me to be a sceptic but I have to point out that till now only 0.0003% of our entire population of the state have been tested scientifically. We have to join hands but the government also has to understand and take us into confidence.
We cannot sit and wait for the South Block or the North Block in Delhi to give us solutions. We have to take our own decisions best suited to our local conditions. Government of Assam has to think out of the box, innovatively and India is capable of tackling this problem and we together can overcome COVID.