There have been missives by the Centre to the states, including by the home secretary and consumer affairs secretary, on the need to revive limited industrial activity, factories, and warehouses to replenish depleting stocks of essential commodities and ensure labour for these operations.
While most states have forwarded suggestions of their respective committees on the issue, the Kerala government’s task force has come up with a 36-page, three-stage plan to exit the lockdown, district by district, depending on the intensity of the spread. This could become a template that states might follow in the weeks to come.
The Centre, as also industry chambers, is keen that limited economic activity should restart. However, states are upset at the “miserly” allocation of funds to them by the Modi government for containing the spread of Covid-19, as well as to meet the economic fallout of the 21-day lockdown.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel
has said it’s the Centre’s prerogative if it wants to start rail and air services, but he would rather not allow road transport into his state at the current juncture.
Even BJP-ruled Karnataka is opposed to the lifting of the lockdown, while Maharashtra has concerns that easing the curbs could lead to a spike in the number of patients in its bustling urban centres.
Non-BJP chief ministers are set to flag the fund crunch issue in Saturday’s meeting. On Friday, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh had described the Rs 15,000 crore funds to states for Covid-19 as “not enough”. Singh said several chief ministers had told the PM at his first meeting on April 2 that the money needed to battle the virus was at least Rs 1.5-2 trillion.
The Centre wants to start some economic activity, but would need to persuade states to be on the same page. Sources in the state governments said this could happen if the Centre shared the financial burden. CPI (M)’s Sitaram Yechury said Kerala would flag the “abysmal” funding by the Centre to states.
The Centre, however, is looking at opening up industries in some zones. “Going forward, the lockdown may not be very homogenous. There are areas in our country, which you can call ‘green zones’ as a manner of speaking, where there haven’t been new cases. If you can identify those places clearly and monitor social distancing and health rules strictly, then I think there is a case for opening up industries in some of these zones,” said a senior finance ministry official.
“In the hotspots, of course, there is no possibility. But in the other areas, the centre and state governments will discuss and arrive at a decision. The industry has also been saying it will develop standard operating procedures for the workforce,” the person said.
(With inputs from T E Narasimhan in Chennai and Samreen Ahmad in Bengaluru)