Sonia Gandhi Photograph:( ANI )
She also called for putting on hold foreign visits by the President, Vice president and Union ministers as well as chief ministers of states and bureaucrats.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting five measures to save money for the fight against COVID-19, including suspension of Central Vista beautification project and complete ban on media advertisements by government for two years.
She also called for putting on hold foreign visits by the President, Vice president and Union ministers as well as chief ministers of states and bureaucrats, and slashing the government's expenditure budget, other than salaries, pensions and central sector schemes, by 30 per cent.
The suggestions came after Modi reached out to several opposition leaders, including Gandhi, on Monday and sought suggestions from them in fighting the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has claimed at least 114 lives and infected over 4,400 people in the country.
"Austerity measures which can be used to divert much-needed funds to the fight against COVID-19 are the need of the hour. In this spirit, I am writing to offer five concrete suggestions. I am certain you will find value in them," Gandhi said in her letter to the prime minister.
She assured the prime minister of unwavering support of the Congress in meeting the grave challenge of COVID- 19 facing the country.
"Impose a complete ban on media advertisements -- television, print and online -- by the Government and Public Sectors Undertakings (PSU's) for a period of two years. The only exceptions should be advisories for COVID-19 or for issues relating to public health," she said.
Gandhi said the central government currently spends Rs 1,250 crore per year on media advertisements, she said, adding that this will free up a substantial amount to alleviate the economic and social impacts of the virus outbreak.
"Suspend the Rs 20,000 crore 'Central Vista' beautification and construction project forthwith. 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," Gandhi told Modi.
There is no urgent or pressing requirement that cannot be postponed until this crisis is contained, she noted.
Gandhi said every Indian has made personal sacrifices to fight this disease, but "it is time that the Legislature and the Executive reciprocate this trust and good faith".
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had yesterday said, "I have welcomed the MPs' pay cut by 30 pc for a year. I also think the Rs 25,000 crore new Parliament building construction should be postponed for a year too."
The Congress president said this sum could instead be allocated towards constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnostics along with equipping our frontline workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gears and facilities.
She also called for transferring all money under the 'PM Cares' fund to the 'Prime Minister's National Relief Fund' to ensure efficiency, transparency and accountability.
These funds, plus the amount in PM-Cares can be utilised to ensure an immediate food security net for those at the very margins of society.
Gandhi said by reducing 30 per cent expenditure of the Centre, it will yield around Rs 2.5 lakh crore per year which can be allocated towards establishing an economic safety net for migrant workers, labourers, farmers, MSMEs and those in the unorganised sector.
She said an amount of Rs 393 crore was spent for just the Prime Minister and Union Cabinet members' trips in the last five years and the amount can be utilised extensively in measures to combat COVID-19.
She, however, said exceptions on foreign visits can be made in case of special exigencies in national interest to be cleared by the prime minister.
The Union cabinet on Monday decided to cut 30 per cent salary of all MPs for one year and divert MPLADS funds for two years to fund the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The President, the Vice President, governors of states have also voluntarily decided to take a pay cut as a social responsibility.