Amid concerns over the long-standing crisis looming in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting five measures to conserve money which could be used for fight against COVID-19 including imposing a complete ban on media advertisements by the government for a period of two years and  suspending Rs 20,000 crore “self-indulgent” Central Vista beautification and construction project.

The suggestions came a day after the Centre on Monday, decided to slash the salaries of the President, Prime Minister, Central ministers and MPs by 30 per cent for the coming year. The  allowances  and pension have been reduced by 30 per cent with effect from April 1, 2020 for a year.

In her letter to the Prime Minister, Gandhi  suggested to suspend 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 building and this sum could instead be allocated towards constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnostics along with equipping our frontline workers with Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) and better facilities.”

Congress president also suggested “proportionate reduction of 30 per cent in the expenditure budget (other than Salaries, Pensions and Central Sector Schemes) should be done for the Government of India as well. This 30 per cent (i.e. Rs 2.5 lakh crore per year approximately) can then be allocated towards establishing an economic safety net for migrant workers, labourers, farmers, MSMEs and those in the unorganised sector”.

Sonia Gandhi’s next suggestion was that “All foreign visits of the president, prime minister, Union ministers, chief ministers, state ministers and bureaucrats must be put on hold.”

“The amount (which is around Rs 393 crores for just the Prime Minister and Union Cabinet’s trips in the last five years) can be utilised extensively in measures to combat Covid-19,” she added.

The Congress chief called for transferring all money under the ‘PM Cares’ fund to the ‘Prime Ministers National Relief Fund’ to ensure efficiency, transparency and accountability.

“This will ensure efficiency, transparency, accountability and audit in the manner in which these funds are allocated and spent. It seems like a waste of effort and resources to have and create two separate silos for the distribution of funds. I understand that Rs 3800 crore approximately are lying unutilised in the PM-NRF (at the end of FY2019). 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.” wrote Gandhi i  the letter to PM.

Asserting that the need of the hour is austerity measures to divert funds to the fight against COVID-19, she said, “Impose a complete ban on media advertisements – television, print and online – by the Government and PSU’s for a period of two years.”

Earlier, on Sunday PM Modi talked to many political leaders and former heads including ex- Presidents, Pranab Mukherjee  and Pratibha Patil and many opposition party leaders including Congress president Sonia Gandhi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh to discuss the situation arising out of Coronavirus.

On April 2, the Congress working committee had met on the backdrop of country facing the coronavirus pandemic and took feedback from the congress-ruled states, as party has been suggesting various measures to help the marginalised sections and daily wagers.

Party president Sonia Gandhi  had slammed the lockdown as “unplanned” and emphasised that testing could only combat this disease which the country is “lacking” and demanded the government to prepare and publish a “Common minimum relief package”.

Sonia Gandhi in her opening remarks said, “the 21-day national lockdown may have been necessary but the unplanned manner in which it has been implemented has caused chaos and pain in the lives of millions of migrant workers all over India.”