Give Flexibility In Planning Lockdown Exit, Classifying Risky Zones, State Leaders Tell Modi
File photo of Narendra Modi. (Photo credit: Bloomberg)

Give Flexibility In Planning Lockdown Exit, Classifying Risky Zones, State Leaders Tell Modi

Some state chief ministers have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to give them the flexibility to plan an exit strategy from the lockdown imposed amid the novel coronavirus outbreak and allowing them to designate areas as red, orange and green zones.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, in the meeting today with the prime minister, said the plan to exit from the lockdown should “focus on fiscal and economic empowerment of the states, which are responsible for the real action directly impinging upon the livelihood and social health of the common man”, according to a statement from his office.

The prime minister has asked the state leaders to share a broad strategy by May 15 on how each state would want to deal with the lockdown in their particular states, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office. “I want states to make a blue print on how to deal with various nuances during and after the gradual easing of the lockdown.”

The state governments should be empowered to decide the conduct of economic activities within the state, said Bhupesh Baghel, chief minister of Chhattisgarh—another state ruled by the opposition Congress party. Baghel also pushed for allowing states to designate areas into zones based on positive coronavirus cases.

The Punjab chief minister agreed, and said small businesses should be allowed to function even in red zones—which have most Covid-19 cases—with proper safeguards.

Baghel requested empowering states to decide the conduct of economic activities within a state, a signal of decentralising processes at a time when orders from the central government are creating confusion among district administrations.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said Modi should give clear directives about the lockdown, and the states will comply, Thackeray’s office tweeted.

Economic activities have begun to pick up in several parts of the country, and the process will further gather steam in coming days, Modi is said to have told the chief ministers, an official said on the condition of anonymity.

The road ahead should focus on reducing the spread of the virus and ensuring all precautions are taken by people, including social distancing norms, Modi told the state leaders.

Chief ministers, in their suggestions, have sought support to small businesses, power projects, easing of interest rates on loans and assured market access to agricultural produce, according the statement by the prime minister’s office.

At a time when the industry awaits a fiscal stimulus or relief measures for various sectors impacted by the lockdown, Modi said: “I’m of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown weren’t needed during the second phase and similarly the measures needed in the third phase aren’t needed in the fourth.”

Financial Assistance To States

Singh urged Modi to grant urgent financial assistance to states to meet at least a third of their committed liabilities. Revenue grants should be given to states for three months to meet shortfall in revenue and to fund expenditure on Covid-19, according to the statement cited earlier. The Punjab chief minister also sought early declaration of minimum support price on paddy and a bonus on non-burning of paddy stubble.

Singh told the PM that Punjab was losing Rs 3,000 crore per month in revenue and demanded release of the the northern state’s GST arrears of Rs 4,365 crore.

The lockdown has hit Maharashtra's finances by Rs 35,000 crore, Thackeray’s office tweeted. The state needs to get its full share of devolution of central taxes and GST refund at the earliest to secure a relief in these trying times, Thackeray told Modi.

Mamata Points Out ‘Contradiction’

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in the meeting, said the central government wants enforcement of a strict lockdown and at the same time is resuming train services, news agency PTI reported.

But Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose party is an ally of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party, thanked the centre for running trains to ferry stuck students and labourers as it was the easiest mode of transportation to cover long distances, according to a statement from his office. He also sought to increase the number of trains running to Bihar as more stranded labourers want to return to Bihar.

The Chhattisgarh chief minister asked for consultation with states before restarting regular train and air services, and inter-state bus transport, while Thackeray asked for restarting Mumbai suburban trains only for employees engaged in providing essential services.

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