Crop harvest takes centre stage in plans for lifting coronavirus lockdown

Topics Coronavirus | Crop | Lockdown

Farmers harvest crops in Jabalpur on Friday. Union home secretary has written to states to allow harvesting and sowing Photo: PTI
The Centre is brainstorming with states before it goes ahead with its plan to undertake a staggered lifting of the 21-day lockdown from April 15. Some of the issues that are likely to be taken up are crop harvest, procurement of grains by government agencies, and restoring inter-state supply chains.

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought suggestions on staggered lifting of the lockdown, some states stressed the need to restore supply chains. They also said the Centre wants them to identify hotspots of the virus, which could help in enforcing a limited lockdown in urban areas.  

Experts, however, believe this will be temporary. A longer lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) would be needed, with the number of cases and deaths from it spiking every passing day.

In his talks with chief ministers, Modi also spoke of a possible second wave of the virus in some countries.

According to sources in some states, they are working on a strategy for a renewed lockdown after a gap of some days to facilitate the procurement of grains.

The Centre also needs to ensure higher production of medical supplies, particularly personal protective equipment and ventilators to supply to states. Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and some others have specifically demanded resumption of supply chains, while Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has asked the Centre for urgent medical supplies.

However, at the current juncture, states as well as the Centre are concerned about the lockdown disrupting the harvest of crops.

On Friday, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla shot off a letter to state chief secretaries to allow harvesting and sowing operations.

After the PM announced the lockdown on March 24, farm outfits approached the Centre asking it to relax restrictions on harvesting of standing crops.

The Centre issued an advisory on March 27, exempting harvest operations, but the message has not reached the ground.

In his letter, the home secretary said lockdown exemptions to farming operations, procurement of agricultural products, operation of mandis as well as movement of harvesting and sowing machinery should be communicated to all field agencies.

At a meeting with state governors and administrators, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu urged them to advise the state agencies to ensure the smooth movement of farm machinery so that farmers do not face any hardship.

According to a statement by the Rajya Sabha secretariat, Naidu also wanted them “to ensure 100 per cent procurement of the produce”. “That is the need of the hour,” the vice-president said.

Experts in India believe the time to assess the impact of the lockdown is the third week of April, since cases recorded now are of those infected before the lockdown started.

RK Misra, a non-resident scholar at Carnegie India, tweeted of a four-week lockdown lifting process. “During our discussion in various groups (with industry/political leaders, thinkers and policymakers), following is emerging as the four-week staggered lockdown lifting process for various industries and institutions. For IT, financial services and BPO companies – only 25 per cent in the first week, 50 per cent in the second week, 75 per cent in the third and 100 per cent in the fourth week attend office and be seated accordingly, ensuring social distancing. Remaining work from home in respective weeks,” Misra added.

“Industries and factories — food and essential goods — immediately open to full production in the first week if they are not running already,” he said. 

The Confederation of All India Traders has also asked for easing of the lockdown, or making the process of getting passes simpler, to ensure smoother supply chains. It said traders have stocks of 15-20 days, but may need to replenish if the lockdown is extended or reinforced later.

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