Centre may extend lockdown beyond May 17 with easier norms for business

Prime Minister Modi during his fifth virtual interaction with chief ministers
After a 6-hour video conference with chief ministers (CMs), Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised resumption of more economic activities in the weeks to come and asked states to take the lead in deciding the contours of the next phase of lockdown and share their strategies with him by May 15.

“Slowly but surely, economic activities have begun to pick up in several parts of the country. In coming days, this process will gather steam. We must realise that the fight against Covid-19 has to be more focused now,” Modi said, suggesting a more granular planning beyond May 17, when the current phase of lockdown ends.

 
“We now have reasonably clear indication as to the geographical spread of the pandemic in India, including the worst-affected areas. Over the past few weeks, officials have understood operating procedures in a time such as this, right up to the district level,” he said, indicating a more decentralised approach to fighting the virus. “I want states to make a blueprint on how to deal with various nuances during and after the gradual easing of the lockdown.

The Centre indicated that an economic package for the states was on the anvil, and the PM expressed the need to strengthen health infrastructure with onset of monsoon round the corner.

He acknowledged that the next challenge was to prevent the virus from “spreading to rural areas”. The fear of spread with the return of Indians stranded abroad was also flagged.

A government statement issued after the meeting acknowledged the CMs suggested support to MSMEs, infrastructure projects like power, easing of interest rates on loans, and assured market access to agricultural produce.

 
Sources said the Centre will only issue broad guidelines, devolving decision making — on identifying zones and economic activities that could be allowed — to state governments and district administrations.

 
“Even as we look at the gradual withdrawal of the lockdown, we should remember that till we do not find a vaccine or a solution, the biggest weapon with us to the fight the virus is social distancing.”

The PM said the World will be “pre-Corona, post-Corona just like the case of the World Wars.” Suggesting that people needed to learn to live with the virus, Modi said the new way of life would be on the principle of “jan se lekar jag tak”, from an individual to the whole of humanity.

This was the fifth such interaction between Modi and the CMs since the lockdown was enforced on March 25, but it was different as the PM said he would first listen to everyone.

On a day that saw the highest one-day spike in Covid-19 cases, at least six CMs opposed resumption of train services.

However, Modi told them it was only human to want to be with families in moments of crisis and they would have to be given the option of going home if they wanted to. He, however, said all routes will not be resumed. The Indian Railways has started a special passenger train service from May 12 and has said it would ramp up the service gradually.

 
Tamil Nadu’s EK Palaniswami said air and train services should not be resumed to his state before May 31, pointing to the increase in coronavirus positive cases in Chennai. Haryana, Assam, and Chhattisgarh CMs also opposed resumption of train services.

Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao also opposed resumption of rail services, pointing out that Covid-19 infections are concentrated in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Hyderabad. “It is also difficult to put all those who travelled by trains under quarantine,” he said.

Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray, Tripura’s Biplab Deb, and Andhra Pradesh’s Y S Jaganmohan Reddy said they wanted some public transport to start. Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan wanted states to take a call on allowing public transport and movement of people.

 
If Punjab’s Amarinder Singh said states should be allowed to do “microplanning”, Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal asked for all areas in the capital, barring containment zones, to be opened up for normal activities.

 
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee accused the Centre of playing politics, eroding federalism and bulldozing states. She also said that though she had flagged the state’s requirements at many meetings, the Centre had not helped Bengal. In a marked departure from others, Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani denied it had asked the Centre to extend the lockdown and said the state would be guided by the Centre.

The states spoke in one voice about their desperate need for funds, including pending goods and services tax compensation.
Maharashtra, Thackery said, had a unique problem: because of the imposition of the code of conduct, crop loans and the state’s loan waiver scheme had not reached all farmers. A directive from the RBI was needed in this regard, he said.

 
Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik suggested that for rebooting economic activities, the Centre could come up with a national standard operating procedure. “As the fight is going to be long, it is important that we involve Panchayats for a system-based response,” he said.

 
With inputs from Aditi Phadnis, Archis Mohan, Dasarath Reddy, Vinay Umarji, T E Narasimhan & Jayajit Dash



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