India Seeking to Resume Road Works, Some Plants in Lockdown
Workers talk on mobile phones at a road construction site in Bhopal District, Madhya Pradesh, India. (Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg)

India Seeking to Resume Road Works, Some Plants in Lockdown

(Bloomberg) -- India is seeking ways to resume construction of highways and arterial roads in districts least impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, and some factories as it charts out a plan to revive Asia’s third-largest economy.

Builders were constructing 31 kilometers (19.3 miles) of roads a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the lockdown starting March 25. India plans to spend $12 billion to build 15,500 km of highways in the new financial year started April 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced in her budget speech on Feb. 1.

“We need to see if there’s a way to start work to ensure employment for at least a section of daily wage workers,” Nitin Gadkari, India’s minister for roads and small and medium industries said in an interview. “If businesses and contractors can provide sanitizers, masks and ensure social distancing, we could see if at least some activity can be restarted.”

Modi’s administration faces the tough choice of lifting the lockdown to sustain the livelihoods of millions who have little to eat, or keep the restrictions in place to check the spread of the pandemic. More than 450 million informal sector workers who depend on daily wages as low as $4 are without have bben without work for nearly three weeks since the restrictions were imposed.

The prime minister is scheduled to address the nation on Wednesday morning and is expected to announce an extension of the lockdown to April 30. There may be relaxation for some industries to partially resume operations and some other steps to salvage the economy.

The federal government is considering a proposal to restart 25% of the capacity at automobile, electronics and textile factories, people with knowledge of the matter said. In a letter written by the industry ministry to home affairs, opening up of certain sectors in single shifts with adequate sanitization norms and social distancing has been proposed, they said, asking not to be identified as talks are private. The partial lifting will start with small businesses and export units.

More than 9,000 Indians have been infected by the virus that has caused over 300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Modi’s administration is poised to extend the lockout that is scheduled to end on Tuesday to contain infections.

The government is consulting states to restart small businesses working with tribal areas in India’s poorest 115 districts, Gadkari said. Authorities have also sought help from industry associations and labor unions in areas where there could be manpower shortages as thousands of migrant workers are either housed in camps or have relocated to their homes in rural areas, he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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