Ball in Centre's court: States for lockdown extension as India sits tight

A worker delivers essentials as police personnel stand guard outside the sealed KDP society, identified as a Covid-19 hotspot, in Ghaziabad. Photo: PTI
Most large states by Friday evening had suggested the lockdown should be extended beyond April 14, preferably until the end of the month, but they left it to the Centre to take a final call on a “graded” lifting of the curbs, and whether it wished to restart some economic activity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet state chief ministers on Saturday to discuss the issue further, and is slated to address the nation in the next couple of days to inform it on the way forward.

The Punjab government on Friday extended the lockdown in the state until May 1, without waiting for the PM’s announcement, becoming the second state to do so. On Thursday, Odisha had extended the lockdown until April 30. However, Punjab will relax the curbs to allow crop harvest and grain procurement.
Senior policymakers said the Centre would work with states to identify areas, which they call ‘green zones’, where industrial and economic activity could be resumed. The sense in the government is that the extended lockdown may not be as comprehensive as the one that ends on April 14.

 

 
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)



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