DMK chief Stalin urges Tamil Nandu government to extend blockade in state

CHENNAI: The prime minister told President M K Stalin on Saturday that the state took an early advantage in addressing the spread and criticized the opposition leader for falling for opportunistic policy on the matter.

In response to the letter Stalin sent him, Palaniswami in a statement detailed the various steps his government had taken in relation to fighting the spread and approaching people during the ongoing blockade.

Stalin had previously urged the government to follow the example of Punjab and Odisha and extend the state-imposed blockade to stop the spread of the coronavirus until the end of April, in addition to seeking cash assistance for those affected by the blockade.

Although isolation was a key precautionary measure, many states had urged the Center to extend the blockade, Stalin said.

The chief ministers of Odisha (Naveen Patnaik) and Punjab (Amarinder Singh) have extended the blockade until April 30 and May 1, respectively. Therefore, a decision must be made in Tamil Nadu without further delay, Stalin, Leader of the opposition in the state, said in the letter.

He said the blockade will affect the livelihoods of the poor, farmers, workers and small merchants, and urged the government to ensure that they did not suffer during this period.

The DMK leader demanded cash assistance of 5,000 rupees, in addition to providing essential items such as rice and legumes to people.

He said the lack of rapid test kits combined with an incomplete assessment of the damage caused by the virus had put people on the edge.

Stalin recalled that the DMK had long been warning the government about the pandemic.

But we did not wake up when Kerala was affected and we did not show due attention when other states were doing that, and now they are facing a serious crisis, he said.

He also wondered why the state government was not convening a meeting of all parties as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had done to discuss the matter.

The pandemic was not merely a medical or health problem, but a social, economic, environmental and political future.

Stalin also made an exception to the state government's decision to use rupees millions of lawmakers' local funds to fight Covid-19, saying the money was being used only for the public welfare.

It is the moral right of MLAs. It is not fair for the state government to take that right away from him, he told the prime minister.

Among others, Stalin sought incentives for health professionals and field personnel, such as the police, since they were actively involved in the fight against the coronavirus.

While there were fears that Tamil Nadu would fall in the third stage of the pandemic, the government should ensure that it does not happen, he said.

In the event that the state enters the third stage, the government must be prepared to face it.

Banging on Stalin, Palaniswami said that long before other states, Tamil Nadu sealed off borders and stepped up passenger screening at state airports.

Shortly after the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, China, this visionary government had placed orders for protective equipment, detection tools and drugs in January, the chief minister said in the statement.

In various containment areas, 33,000 people had surveyed about 59 lakh people, even when the health infrastructure had been strengthened with the addition of isolation rooms with 32,371 beds and 3,371 fans on standby, he said.

For future planning, one-lakh beds have been identified in 5,713 isolation facilities in public and private buildings, even when personal protective equipment and masks were available in sufficient quantity.

More health professionals have been appointed, including as temporary staff, even when the government has announced an additional month's pay for such workers.

Other cash incentives for them have also been announced.

Task teams led by senior IAS officials were effectively serving people during the shutdown period, he said.

He recalled the government's Rs 3,280 crore RPT 32s crore package to protect people's livelihoods, including providing cash assistance to specific sections as well as guaranteeing food to the poor through the government's Amma soup kitchens during the shutdown.

On Stalin's criticism of the government's decision to use Rs a crore of MLA funds, he said that these funds were also directed towards the public welfare, that is, to fight against the spread of Covid-19.

Rather than welcoming him, the (DMK) criticism shows its double standards, he said.

He said Stalin was trying to paint a picture that the government was doing nothing and leveling unfounded accusations in the name of giving suggestions.

This shows his opportunistic policy, said Palaniswami.

His criticism amounted to downgrading the disinterested personnel involved in the battle against Covid-19, Palaniswami added.