A day after the Central government extended the country-wide lockdown till May 17 , the State Cabinet decided to follow suit. It, however, announced relaxations in non-containment zones of the State by permitting a re-commencement of key infrastructure activities and reopening of special economic zones and export-oriented units/export units with restrictions.
These decisions, among others, were taken by the Cabinet, which met for two-and-a-half hours at the Secretariat. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam were among those present. As soon as the meeting began at about 11 a.m., Chief Secretary K. Shanmugam and Health Secretary Beela Rajesh gave an elaborate account of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the State. Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) S. Krishnan, who submitted preliminary recommendations of his committee to the Chief Minister on Friday, was also present.
Given the fact that the State had, till recently, one green zone (Krishnagiri), 24 orange zones and 12 red zones, the Cabinet did not have much scope for extending relaxations, pointed out a senior official. What it did was to peruse the guidelines of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, issued at different points of time in April and the latest one on May 1, before taking the decisions. There were only “marginal differences” between the conditions for red and orange zones. However, as the State government did not completely act on the MHA’s notifications of April 15 and 16 with regard to allowing a number of economic activities, it had now decided to give effect to most of the revised guidelines.
Among the non-containment zones, the Cabinet distinguished between those falling under the jurisdiction of the Greater Chennai Police and those in the remaining areas of the State. Compared to the Chennai region where the number of cases was on the rise, it chose to give more relaxations for the rest of the State. For example, in respect of the IT/ITeS sector, the permitted quantum of staff strength is 10% for firms in and around Chennai, while it is 50% in other parts of the State.
The Cabinet took a conscious decision of treating the textile sector cautiously as it received feedback from Ministers of the western belt that the scope was “limited” for adherence to norms of personal distancing at mills. With regard to infrastructure or road works, the Cabinet’s recommendation was that the services of locally available labour should be utilised. “We cannot go on with the present state for months together as the livelihood opportunities of a large number of the poor are at stake,” pointed out Mr. Shanmugam. Another official said that “to the extent possible”, the government had struck a balance between social and economic goals.
Asked about the continued denial of permission for salons and beauty parlours, the official replied that given the nature of service to be rendered to customers, the chances were extremely limited for adhering to the norms on personal distancing. Besides, the Centre itself had included “barber shops, spas and salons” in the list of prohibited activities for red zones.
Pointing out that more focus would be paid to containment zones, Mr. Shanmugam said that the government had also felt that there was no point in penalising the remaining parts of the State. As the period of “broader lockdown” was nearing its end, the government would hereafter have to go for “localised lockdowns” to ensure that the pandemic did not spread.
About arrangements for getting e-passes for household helps, the Chief Secretary said that a provision would shortly be made on the system and the passes would be issued by the Corporation Commissioner in Chennai and Collectors in other districts.
Easing of curbs:
The Cabinet permitted following activities in areas outside the containment zones falling under the jurisdiction of Greater Chennai Police:
- Resumption of construction activity, road works, opening of SEZs, EOU or Export Units
- Firms can function with minimum 20 employees or 25% of staff strength; IT or ITES firms with minimum of 20 employees or 10% staff strength
- Shops selling essential commodities between 6 am and 5 pm, restaurants (only for parcels) from 6 am to 9 pm.
- For standalone and neighbourhood shops, barring saloons or beauty parlours timing is from 11 am to 5 pm, and also for service providers such as plumbers, electricians
For non-containment zones in the rest of Tamil Nadu, in the zones under municipal corporations and municipalities, the Cabinet permitted the following:
- Reopening of all factories including textile mills with 50% of the staff strength (min: 20 employees).
- Textile mills with 50% staff strength in town panchayats of over 15,000 population with the clearance of District Collectors; SEZ, EOU, industrial estates/clusters in rural and urban areas with 50% staff strength but no permission to textile mills
- For factories located in industrial estates of urban areas, the Cabinet authorises Collectors to decide re-opening of export units in urban areas with 50% staff strength and units of designing and production of samples for exporting garment and leather products with 30% staff strength. It permits re-opening of hardware manufacturing firms with 50% staff strength; spinning mills in rural areas with 50% staff strength; IT& ITES units with minimum 20 employees and construction and road works by government and public sector enterprises
The Cabinet also gave nod for resumption of practice by service providers such as plumbers, electricians, AC mechanics and tailors. It also allowed shops selling materials for infrastructure industry and repair shops for mobile phones and computers to function. All these are to be kept open from 9 am to 5 pm. All private shops, barring malls and market complexes, allowed to function between 10 am and 5 pm.