PM hints at lockdown extension till Apr 30; industrial activity may begin

Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a meeting via video-conferencing with the Chief Ministers over coronavirus
On a day India witnessed its largest number of new coronavirus cases, the central government was set to extend on Saturday the nationwide lockdown by another two weeks, until April 30.

While a formal announcement was awaited, official sources said the second phase of the lockdown was likely to be less comprehensive than the first, and that agriculture, construction, and limited industrial activity would be permitted.

Maharashtra, however, didn’t wait for the Centre’s announcement and said it would extend the lockdown till at least April 30. Odisha and Punjab have already announced the extension.

Interacting with chief ministers via videoconferencing in his third such meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hinted at the need to strike a balance between saving lives and reviving economic activity.

According to a government statement, the PM underlined that the motto of the government earlier was “Jaan bhi and jahan bhi — a future where people care about both the aspects, follow their duties and abide by the directions of the government — will be important for India’s prosperous and healthy future,” the PM said, who was seen wearing a cotton scarf as a face cover, as were some of the chief ministers.

Modi said there seemed to be a consensus among the states on the extension of the lockdown by another two weeks. The chief ministers demanded a relief package, besides more financial, fiscal and medial support from the Centre.

They flagged how millions had lost livelihoods and needed support.

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray pointed to challenges migrant workers were facing as industries did not have the money to provide for their wages and shelter interminably. They sought the Centre’s assistance to facilitate the harvest of crops and grain procurement, relaxing of the FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Act cap of 3 per cent fiscal deficit to 4-5 per cent, release of MNREGA funds to pay wages to workers, and also their share of GST compensation.

The CMs pointed out they might not have massive resources needed to deal with a spurt in Covid-19 cases if the lockdown was lifted sooner. Some of the CMs, particularly West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, spoke of the interference in the government’s work by governors.

There were also signs that the lockdown could be extended beyond April 30 as well. The PM said at the meeting, “The next 3-4 weeks are critical to determine impact of steps taken till now to curb the spread of the virus.” The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned countries against hastily lifting Covid-related restrictions, and cautioned such a move could lead to “a deadly resurgence".

Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary at the Union health ministry, said according to a data analysis done by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the number of cases would have crossed 45,000 had there been no lockdown. If no preventive measures were to be taken, the number of positive Covid-19 patients would have crossed 200,000, he said.

The PM suggested specific measures for agriculture and allied sector, including the modification of APMC laws to facilitate sale of farm produce. He said India had adequate supplies of essential medicines. He said the crisis was an opportunity to become self-reliant and turn the nation into an economic powerhouse.


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