In an indication that ongoing national lockdown may not end completely but curbs will be further eased, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said he was of the view that the measures needed in the first three phases of lockdown were not needed “in the fourth”. He asked states to come up with a blueprint May 15 on how to deal with various aspects of the gradual easing of the lockdown.
In a video conference with chief ministers of all states, which lasted for nearly six hours, the situation arising out of the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown was discussed extensively, according to PTI. Modi said country will have to devise a balanced strategy to revive the economy and deal with COVID-19 with a sharp focus on ensuring that rural areas remain free from the pandemic.
The 54-day nationwide lockdown since March 25 to contain the spread of coronavirus is scheduled to end on May 17.
“Now the world will be pre-Corona, post-Corona just like the case of the world wars. And this would entail significant changes in how we function...We must all plan for the new reality,” Modi said, according to PTI.
What chief ministers said:
— According to a Delhi government official, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said barring containment zones, economic activities should be allowed to resume in the national capital.
Kejriwal is learnt to have also raised the issue of Delhi receiving only Rs 325 crore as share in the central taxes. The AAP government has been demanding an enhanced share in the central taxes.
The government has already demanded from the Centre that all eleven districts of Delhi should not be treated as ‘Red Zone’ so that more economic activities are allowed in the national capital, sources told PTI. The government wants the Red Zone areas to be identified as per the wards and not districts.
— Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh pitched for the extension of the coronavirus lockdown, but demanded a carefully crafted exit strategy providing fiscal support to states.
In view of the increasing number of coronavirus cases, continuation of the lockdown was needed, Singh said, adding the decision on designating red, orange/yellow and green zones should be left to the states, which are more cognisant of the ground realities.
The exit strategy should consider and focus on fiscal and economic empowerment of the states, which are responsible for real action directly impinging upon the livelihood and social health of the common man, the Punjab chief minister said.
— Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami came out against the resumption of flight and passenger train services till May 31, citing increasing cases of coronavirus.
— Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray urged Modi to show “specific and concrete direction” on the lockdown, a state government official said.
“Show us specific and concrete direction on lockdown, the states will implement the same,” an official statement quoted Thackeray as telling the prime minister.
The statement said Thackeray also requested Modi to start local trains in Mumbai for essential services staff working in the city.
— Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan suggested that states should have the “flexibility” in changing lockdown guidelines and allowing public and Metro rail services by following social distancing norms, except in red zones.
Pinarayi also suggested that antibody test be conducted on expatriates before they arrive here from various countries.
“We are already facing a situation wherein five positive cases were reported from passengers who came to the state in chartered flights last week”, he said.
Pinarayi also wanted states to be allowed to operate Industrial and Trade establishments, taking into consideration the ground situation, but with restrictions like social distancing in areas, except containment zones.
On the lines of Shramik special trains to take migrant workers back to their states, Pinarayi wanted special trains to bring back Keralites stranded in various states.
Kerala also wanted non-stop trains from Mumbai, Ahemedabad, Kolkatta, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru to bring back its people stranded due to the lockdown.
— West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee highlighted the “contradictions” in the Centre’s approach to tackling the outbreak.
“On one hand the Centre wants the lockdown to be enforced strictly, and on the other it is resuming train services and reopening land borders,” PTI sources quoted her as having told the meeting.
According to officials, Modi said it was essential to make best efforts to ensure that people stay where they were during the lockdown, however, in times like these people wish to go home and therefore, a change in decision had to be made.
Banerjee also said Bengal was being “unnecessarily targeted” over its handling of COVID-19, insisting she wanted to fight the pandemic jointly with the Centre, TMC sources told PTI. She demanded that the Centre formulate a “clear strategy” to fight the disease
Banerjee suggested that states be allowed to decide on which sectors to open and which to keep shut keeping in mind the situation on the ground.
— Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao urged Modi not to resume the passenger train services and said the impact of COVID-19 has been more in major cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.
Rao told Modi that resumption of passenger train services at this juncture would lead to movement of people from one destination to another.
Nobody knows who is going from where to where. It is not possible to conduct tests on everyone. It is also difficult to put all those who travelled by trains under quarantine. Hence, passengers trains should not be allowed to ply, he said.
The chief minister also strongly favoured state governments allowing migrant workers to return to their native places, besides rescheduling the loans of states and raising Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) limits.
Observing that no revenue is being earned in view of the virus spread and consequent lockdown, he said no state was in a position to repay loans.
— Bihar’s Nitish Kumar made it clear that the state will be in agreement” with whatever decision the Centre took with respect to the lockdown but extending it would be helpful.
Kumar said the state’s testing capacity needed to be enhanced drastically.
“On an average 1,800 samples are being tested daily and we want to raise it to 10,000. We hope that our requisition for additional RT-PCR machines, and the kits used in these as well as RNA extraction are fulfilled at the earliest,” Kumar was quoted by officials as having told the meeting. He also said the state had requested for 100 ventilators.
— Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren urged Modi to increase wages and man-days under MGNREGA scheme by 50% as it is the main thrust of the rural economy with stranded migrant workers returning to the state.
Soren sought relaxation in the guidelines of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) as per the state’s need.
He urged Modi to speed up ferrying of migrant workers to their homes.
The chief minister also requested the Centre for early clearance of the state’s share of GST and permit collection of revenue from some resources at the state level.
— Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat on Monday sought the Centre’s permission to reopen residential schools and resumption of economic activities outside containment zones in the state.
Rawat advocated steps to revive the tourism and hospitality industry, saying it had been hit hard by the pandemic.
The chief minister suggested resumption of economic activities outside containment zones and starting tourist activities in green zones of the state in a limited manner.
— Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said he favoured extending the lockdown and urged Modi to make alternative arrangements for trading of the state’s apples as operations at Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi got affected by spurt in COVID-19 cases.
The state government has developed a geo-fencing app to ensure that people coming from other states do not jump their quarantine period, the chief minister said.
One lakh stranded people have already returned in the state. This has resulted in an increase in COVID-19 cases, he added.
— In an official release, the Gujarat government said CM Vijay Rupani shared details about various decisions taken so far by his government about opening shops, industries and other commercial activities in the state.
Rupani also held discussions with the PM about future strategy to contain the viral infection and also start industrial activities, it said.
During a similar PM-CMs meeting held in end-April, Rupani had said his government will follow whatever the Centre decides on fighting COVID-19.
— Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan advocated a mixed approach in the next phase of lockdown with strict curbs in coronavirus- affected areas and relaxations in others with an aim to kick- start economic and business activities.
Curfew should remain in force as before from 7 PM to 7 AM and public transport should be started in a controlled manner. However, all kinds of celebrations should be banned, he suggested.
— Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot suggested Modi launch an employment guarantee scheme for the urban poor on the lines of the MGNREGA, saying they have been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown.
He also demanded powers to decide coronavirus zones, a state release said.
Seeking a financial package, the chief minister said the states’ revenue has been adversely hit by the lockdown, making it difficult for them to combat the crisis without the Centre’s support.
“It is needed that the centre provides a comprehensive economic stimulus package at the earliest,” he said, adding that all sectors such as MSMEs, services, tourism and real state needed the government support.
Gehlot said in the next phase, the states should be given the right to determine coronavirus zones.
The states should be empowered to decide which activity should be allowed or restricted at the local level, Gehlot said.
Gehlot also sought an increase in the states’ borrowing limit from three to five per cent of state GDP.
The CM demanded assistance in tackling the locust attack.
— Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Monday said the Centre should allow state governments to decide on red, green, orange zones based on severity of the coronavirus situation in areas under their jurisdiction, officials said.
Citing the financial crisis triggered by the lockdown, Baghel gave suggestions related to functioning of economic activities in states and providing employment to labourers and villagers, the statement said.
Baghel requested the PM to allocate Rs 30,000 crore to the Congress-ruled state.
He also urged that the credit limit for his state this year should be relaxed to 6% and its fiscal deficit should be kept at 5% of the GSDP, the release said.
Like health workers, the Chief Minister requested the PM to include employees and officials of the police department, municipal corporations, district administration and other departments under the PM Garib Kalyan Package.
He also urged to increase 100 days of employment fixed under MGNREGA to 200 days.
He reiterated his demand to sanction additional levy worth Rs 4,140 crore fetched by the Centre on coal drawn from mines of the state to the Chhattisgarh government.
— Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu requested Modi for TrueNat machines for quick COVID-19 testing as a large number of stranded people have begun returning to the northeastern state.
TrueNat is a tuberculosis testing machine, which the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has approved for coronavirus tests as it can provide results within an hour, if the case is negative. However, for positive cases, it has to be reconfirmed through other methods.
Khandu also urged Modi to continue facilitating investments in the Northeast so the region’s economy is not compromised due to the pandemic.
The interaction was attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan among others.
The prime minister interacted with the chief ministers last on April 27. Days after the meeting, the central government had extended the lockdown by two more weeks till May 17 to arrest the spread of the virus, but gave several relaxations in economic activities and movement of people.
According to the Union health ministry on Tuesday, India registered a record jump of 3,604 COVID-19 cases in a single day, taking the total number of COVID-19 cases to over 70,000 with a death toll of 2,293.
(With PTI inputs)