Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday held an exhaustive conference with State chief ministers on the road ahead to relax curbs to contain the spread of Covid-19, while gradually restarting economic activity.
The States differed in their priorities and suggestions. Some States such as Punjab, Maharashtra, Bengala and Assam requested for an extension of the lockdown beyond May 17, when the deadline for the third phase expires, while others including Andhra Pradesh and even Delhi and Gujarat, where the spike in Covid-19 cases is quite steep, pressed for urgent resumption of economic activity and movement.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wanted the entire Capital city, barring the locally identified containment zones, to reopen. Where there was unanimity among the CMs was in more fiscal powers and decentralised decision-making even with regard to taking the call on whether to ease the lockdown.
On train and air services
The Chief Ministers wanted the Centre to consult them before starting regular train services, with the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Palaniswami requesting the Centre not to resume train and air services to the State till May 31. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan too cautioned the Centre against relaxing the air and rail travel restrictions without proper planning. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wanted the lockdown extended, but also reportedly conveyed her displeasure with the Centre “playing politics” during the crisis.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan joined the meeting, with the Prime Minister asking all Chief Ministers to underline the urgent need for a more focussed strategy, combining social distancing and preventing the spread of the pandemic, especially to the rural areas, by restarting economic activities.
“Slowly but surely, economic activities have begun to pick up in several parts of the country. In the coming days, the process will further gather steam. We must realise that the fight against Covid-19 has to be more focussed now. Going ahead, the road ahead should be focussed on reducing the spread and ensuring that all precautions are taken by people including social distancing norms,” said the Prime Minister.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik suggested that a smaller unit could replace district for the purpose of de-marking red, orange and green zones for Covid-19 spread and the decision with regard to its geographical spread should be taken locally. “A small, scientific unit can replace district as a unit for zoning, and we should allow local administration to decide this area. As regards lockdown and other regulations, there should be broad principles at national level and allow decentralised implementation by local administration,” said Patnaik.
According to the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, the MGNREGA wages should be given for 200 days as opposed to 100 now,s given the loss of earnings, and the State government alone should be responsible for designating areas into red, orange and green zones.
Baghel stressed on autonomy and funds to make up for the economic destruction and revenue loss during the lockdown. “The State’s fiscal deficit should be kept as an exception at 5 per cent of the GSDP this year and the borrowing limit should be relaxed to 6 per cent of the GSDP,” said Baghel.
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh too pressed for “great flexibility” in planning ahead. He demanded that MSMEs be allowed to function in red zones with proper safeguards and reiterated his demand for financial assistance.