NEW DELHI: The Centre made a "grave mistake" by announcing the lockdown without taking the states into confidence and it should now spell out its plan after the 21-day period ends to avoid "chaos", Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said on Sunday.
Asserting that access to testing should be "universal", Moily, a member of Congress task force to deal with COVID-19 pandemic in party-ruled states, said the key to fighting the pandemic was large scale testing and the Congress-ruled states were focusing on that aspect despite constraints.
"We (Congress-ruled states) have given high priority to testing. Until the testing is carried out on a massive scale, I don't think we can tackle this issue," he told PTI in an interview.
The former Union minister is part of the Congress task force set up last month to intensify efforts to deal with the COVID-19 situation in party-ruled states.
Besides Moily, the task force also includes P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh, and Tamradhwaj Sahu -- all chairmen of respective manifesto implementation committees in the Congress ruled-states of Puducherry, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Moily asserted that the states should have been taken into confidence before the lockdown was ordered. "This is a grave mistake made by Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and the Government of India. Absolutely no notice was given, states could have made more preparation. This was just imposed like a shock," he said.
"There is so much chaos. In fact, the lockdown should be consequent to declaring both an economic emergency and health emergency which they have not done. In countries like the UK and Canada, they have treated it as a war-like situation which we haven't done," Moily said.
He said businesses have suffered because of the international shutdown and the internal lockdown, and alleged that the government did not take care of these aspects as "proper policy thrust" was not there.
He said that the government should come out with clarity on the way forward. "Suppose they lift the lockdown after April 14. Then what next? What are the measures that will be taken? They should not suddenly announce it. They should announce it right now as to what measures, what modifications, could be made with respect to lockdown, otherwise there will be chaos," he said.
"They should not make it a mystery as 130 crore people have to prepare themselves. The prime minister keeps on repeating that 130 crore people are cooperating, it is not enough. All these 130 crore people will have to be prepared for which a big support measure is necessary from the Centre and states," the senior Congress leader said.
Moily also said that the National Disaster Management Act should have been invoked earlier and migration of labourers taking place contained.
"People should have been contained in their respective states. A lot of anarchy has been created because of migration due to the sudden lockdown," he said.
Moily said there have been a number of conflicting signals from the BJP governments in states where some have said lockdown may be extended, while the prime minister's statements indicate that the lockdown may not continue in the same manner, and asserted that these contradictions make the people confused.
He said former Congress president Rahul Gandhi had warned about the situation arising out of the pandemic very early and many Congress-ruled states started taking preparatory steps. "That is why the preparatory steps taken by Congress-ruled states are much better compared to other states," he said.
On the BJP's allegation that the Congress is playing politics over the pandemic, Moily claimed that Prime Minister Modi was not following democratic practices and not taking the opposition into confidence on any issue.
Dismissing the financial assistance plan announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as "cosmetic", Moily said the government has not spelt out a strategy to face the situation arising out of the lockdown.
Asked about his views on whether the lockdown should continue or not, he said, "I don't think it should be continued in the same measure, but at the same time, we should not let loose and particularly social distancing measures should be strictly implemented."
He also asserted that healthcare workers need to be given personal protective equipment (PPE) which they are not getting properly.
Moily said that the Congress task force is overseeing the efforts in the Congress-ruled states to fight the pandemic and exchanging notes to ensure best practices are followed. "I am in-charge of Puducherry, the other members (of the task force) also got in touch with their respective states and we have been exchanging notes. As far as Puducherry is concerned, action is being taken on a war-footing," he said.
Moily also hailed the hospital infrastructure and food security provided by the Chhattisgarh government.