Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said at a videoconference with Chief Ministers that a lockdown would continue in some form or the other even after May 17, but that the State governments should send in their plans for ramping up economic activity in green zones in their States between May 15 and 17 for consideration by the Centre.
In a marathon meeting that lasted (with a half an hour break in between) for nearly six hours, and saw most Chief Ministers speak their mind, Mr. Modi said the imperative was to protect rural areas from the COVID-19 pandemic as these areas were largely untouched at the moment.
According to one Chief Minister who spoke to The Hindu , Mr. Modi indicated that a full exit from the lockdown was not possible in the current circumstances, especially since five Chief Ministers, including West Bengal, Telangana and Bihar asked for an extension.
He lauded the State governments for their work in containing the pandemic till now, and said it was to be a united effort.
He also said the movement of migrant labour to their native States should be expedited within the next 10 days. “This may lead to some problems in terms of States that employ them and even in their native States where there may be a spike in cases,” Mr. Modi is reported to have said. All States, however, should now think in terms of economic revival as well, he emphasised.
Apart from asking for an extension of the lockdown, several States like Bihar, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh expressed misgivings about restoration of train services . Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar reportedly said that as a former Railway Minister “he knew better than most” how it could lead to a rapid spread of the disease at this crucial juncture. The railways announced on Sunday evening that it would be running 15 trains in pairs from May 12 to select destinations in a partial opening of till now shuttered passenger services.
While five States asked for an extension of lockdown, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said it was time that the country “learned to live with coronavirus,” indicating that he was in favour of some opening up of the economy. He also said that instead of “red” or “green zones,” containment zones be demarcated within districts to signify open and locked down areas.
C hhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel was vehement that States be left to decide containment and open zones and draw up micro plans for themselves. He was echoed by Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who also asked for a partial opening of public transport in less affected areas of his State.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke early in the meeting and raised very sharp points on being politically victimised over COVID-19 preparedness in her States, pointing to being singled out by Home Minister Amit Shah and Central teams for criticism. “What is the need to politicise this situation,” she said during her time to speak.
Almost all States said a financial package to aid embattled State finances should be announced, Goods and Services Tax (GST) compensation due to States be paid and packages for economic revival also be announced soon. Several States including Andhra Pradesh said the limits for deficit under the Fiscal Responsibility Act be raised. Punjab asked for an early announcement for higher Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy and a bonus for not burning the paddy stubble.
As plans are expected to stream in before May 17 from States, the picture of just how India may exit the lockdown is yet to emerge.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said reduction of transmission rate of the novel coronavirus and gradual increase in public activities while adhering to all guidelines are the “twofold” challenges and now the Centre and states will have to work towards achieving the twin objectives.
Addressing Chief Minister via a video conference, the Prime Minister also said he is of the “firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the second phase and similarly the measures needed in the third phase are not needed in the fourth,” according to an official statement.
Mr. Modi reaffirmed the importance of ‘ do gaz doori ’ (a distance of two yards) and added that suggestion of “night curfew” raised by many Chief Ministers would surely reaffirm the feeling of caution among people.
Referring to the resumption of train services, Mr. Modi said it was needed to rev up the economic activity. But, he made it clear that services on all routes will not be resumed and that only a limited number of trains would ply.
Nearly two months after it suspended operations of passenger trains over the coronavirus crisis, the railways will resume services with 15 pairs of trains on select routes from Tuesday.