Prime Minister Narendra Modi has less than a week – lockdown 2.0 ends on May 3 – to script the road ahead for the country. And his task has been made difficult by the multiplicity of challenges he faces: many chief ministers who were part of a virtual meeting with him on Monday favoured lockdown extension, the precarious state of the economy and the hardships being faced by the disadvantaged sections of society.
PM Modi has to take a tough call: whether strict curbs can continue at the cost of economic activity or lockdown 3.0 will be smart with restriction levels varying with risk assessments.
He is understood to have conveyed to chief ministers that importance has to be given to the economy even as the nation fights coronavirus.
In his fourth video conference meeting since March 22 when he first spoke to chief ministers on the pandemic, PM Modi underlined the significance for the states to enforce prescribed guidelines strictly in hotspots.
Top government sources made one point clear that the restrictions and social distancing protocols are not going to be summarily lifted after May 3.
A senior minister said that given the ground situation and the demand of the CMs, an extension of a short duration seems to be coming. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the next step after May 3 will be dictated by the states with the Centre playing the role of a facilitator and coordinator.
A senior official said that this would be in sharp departure from lockdown 1.0 when the Centre piloted the lockdown and the states were made to follow it. However, PM Modi is expected to take a call closer to the end of lockdown 2.0 After a two-hour meeting, PM Modi asked the states to prepare their lockdown exit plans. This followed the states favouring staggered relaxation and serious containment as sole options.
Over the next few days the CMs are expected to submit their plans and PM Modi will speak to them individually.
Ground surveillance reports from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and other agencies will be collated to put together what is being called a National Risk Assessment Index During Monday’s meeting, PM Modi asked the CMs to prepare state-wise staggered exit policies in view of their Red, Orange and Green zones – categorisations based on the number of cases in an area and the duration for which no case has been reported.
WHAT STATES SAID
A chief minister who attended the meeting said that PM Modi after listening to 10-odd CMs indicated that since the lockdown has proved to be an effective antidote against the virus spread, there might be a logical reason for continuing with locking down hotspots or red zone areas.
Sources say that while Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik asked for a month’s extension of the lockdown, at least three more CMs advocated for an extension, but of a shorter duration.
However, some states were vocal about the cost of the lockdown and the hardship faced by the poor and migrant labourers. Sources say that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar expressed concern over the state of migrants from Bihar stuck in various parts of the country.
He and Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren asked for a policy to bring stranded students from Kota in Rajasthan and other states. He also asked for health checkups of all migrants labourers.
Speaking to India Today TV, a senior JD(U) leader said, “The time for a binary situation is over. It can’t be saving lives at the cost of hardships and economy. Today the police and officers have sweeping powers.
Even if some restrictions are eased, business entities facing multiple riders are not ready to open up with the sword of democles hanging over them.
The entry wheel has to be rediscovered if the idea of staggered exit and multiple degrees has to succeed.”
However high instances of Covid-19 positive cases are a concern especially in highly industrialised states like Gujarat. State CM Vijay Rupani briefed the Centre about their testing-treatment mechanism and voted in favour of an extension of the lockdown in red zones and hotspot areas. He informed the PM that small business activities have already begun in green zones after MHA’s guidelines.
Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar briefed about the steps taken to help farmers during the harvest and procurement period. He too ruled in favor of an extension of the lockdown in red zones along with border sealing to stop free movement.
Speaking to India Today TV, Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s Deputy CM, said, “The situation is still challenging, but a final decision will be taken in the next few days.” He however indicated that some relaxation may be given but strict restrictions will continue in containment zones.
Maharashtra which continues to top in terms of the number of cases suggested that at the end of lockdown 2.0, there needs to be full locking down of hotspots.
This means that the top two towns in the state including India’s financial capital Mumbai and Pune may continue to see tough restrictions, while a decision will be taken on green zones. Maharashtra informed that it awaits a decision on migrants’ movement and it also requested special grant of foodgrains from the Centre.
“Most CMs wanted the lockdown to continue after May 3 given the way in which cases are rising and asked the PM to adopt a cautious approach while opening it,” said V Narayanasamy, Puducherry CM.
With states taking divergent views, the Centre is not expected to come up with “a one size fits all” kind of exit from lockdown 2.0. However, with states zealously opposing crossborder movements of people to contain the virus spread, there is little likelihood of trains and bus transport opening up in near future.
A decision on commercial aviation is also likely near the end of the ongoing phase of the lockdown. Schools and educational institutions are likely to be asked to take an early summer vacation.