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Critics doubt Modi's US$266 billion package can help poor

While the scheme could help industries, its implementation may not directly reach millions of poor

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Updated: May 14, 2020 09:41 AM GMT
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Critics doubt Modi's US$266 billion package can help poor

People watch Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation on May 12 on a television in Siliguri during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus. (Photo: Diptendu Dutta/AFP)

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a financial package worth US$266 billion to boost India's economy during the Covid-19 lockdown, but critics doubt if the move will help India's poor.

The stimulus is equivalent to 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). It will benefit laborers, farmers, honest taxpayers and cottage industries, Modi said in his May 12 address, his fifth since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country.

"Be vocal for local," he said, stressing on making India self-reliant by providing global standard products. The crisis should become an opportunity for India to become an economically strong nation by promoting local products, he said.

The package aims to mitigate the adverse economic impact of the coronavirus, Modi said. Federal finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman will announce the details, he said.

"This package is for that worker in the country, that farmer, who is working hard day and night; for the Indian middle class, for the industry which is committed to making India stronger," he said.

Modi's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party chief J.P. Nadda described the announcement as the "world's largest holistic relief package."

But critics like the opposition Congress party say it was another "headline-hunting" opportunity for Modi as the package remains just a number without any details on how it could be dispersed.

Congress spokeswoman Manish Tewari tweeted: "PM's speech can be summed up in one word — headline hunting. A number — 20 lakh crore. No details."

Father Jaison Vadassery, secretary to the Conference of Catholic Bishops' of India (CCBI) commission for migrants, commended the prime minister on the package.

"But the government has to make sure that money has to reach the right person," said the priest, former secretary of the Indian bishops' labor office.

He pointed out that the federal government is speaking about the financial package to help all industries and workers, but some state governments are abolishing labor laws to help industrialists. "How can they both go together?" he asked.

The "biggest concern is how the package will be implemented — will it reach to the poor? That is the question," Father Vadassery said.

A.C. Michael, a Christian leader and former member of Delhi Minorities Commission, said Modi was "looking at London, talking to Tokyo."

"Frankly, last night's speech was meant for the gallery. Nothing more than that could be expected," Michael told UCA News on May 13.

Industrialists happy

However, industrialists like Anand Mahindra found the move positive. "This was the PM's carpe diem (seize the day) speech, an opportunity to change the narrative from survival to strength," he tweeted.

Sandip Sabharwal, a Mumbai-based fund manager, said the announcement looks positive for the economy.

"This package does not mean money will reach consumers' pockets, but it will reshape the country's future," said T.V. Mohandas Pai, former founder of India's IT major Infosys.

Even before the pandemic hit India, the country's growth had been slowing and public finances were strained because of poor tax mobilization and higher spending.

Last month ratings agency Fitch said India's sovereign rating could come under pressure if its fiscal outlook slowed down further.

In March, the government announced around US$2.6 billion in direct cash transfers and food security measures, mainly for the poor. Modi said the special economic package would be complemented with bold reforms in every sector.

In his speech lasting over half an hour, Modi also announced a differently structured lockdown from May 18 when the current 54-day twice-extended lockdown ends.

Modi made it clear that the new lockdown norms would be "completely different," hinting that vital economic activities may be allowed. "Information on what will be part of the new lockdown will be provided to citizens before May 18," the PM said.

India has reported more than 74,000 coronavirus cases among its 1.3 billion population. At least 2,415 had died as of May 13.

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