PM hints at 'conditional lockdown extension'
New Delhi: As India battles the COVID-19 crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday held a video conference with Chief Ministers primarily to take their feedback on whether the 21-day nationwide lockdown be extended beyond April 14 to stem the tide of the infections.
The Prime Minister, on the other hand, stressed that the new challenge was not only to save lives but livelihoods also.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined that the motto of the government earlier was jaan hai to jahaan hai (when you have life, you have the world).
"Now, it is jaan bhi jahaan bhi (save life, and livelihood)," he said, signalling a shift in the Centre's approach. Modi, however, did not elaborate much. An official in the Prime Minister's Office later said he would finalise the country's strategy closer to April 14 after some more deliberations.
Chief Ministers of several Opposition-ruled states, including Punjab, Bengal, Delhi and Maharashtra have gone ahead to extend the lockdown. In contrast, NDA Chief Ministers have left the decision to the Prime Minister who is expected to take a more nuanced approach.
The Central government is understood to have also obtained views on the issue from all the relevant agencies and stakeholders involved in the efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.
It is also learnt that the ongoing lockdown is now set to continue for at least two more weeks and is unlikely to be entirely lifted after that. Rather, a staggered exit strategy will be put in place depending on the circumstances of the time.
The Union Home Ministry has sought views of state governments on various aspects, including whether more categories of people and services need to be exempted. In the current lockdown, only essential services are exempted.
During the video conference that began at 11 am with Modi, several Chief Ministers including Punjab's Amarinder Singh and Delhi's Arvind Kejriwal had suggested extending the lockdown at least by a fortnight.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was one of those that advocated for a complete lockdown, informing the meeting that the state had already announced a complete lockdown till May 1, but also asked for a slew of other measures such as a special insurance scheme for government sector employees, and increase in testing as well as a one-time increase in borrowing limit from 3 per cent to 4 per cent of the state's GDP by amending the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Amendment Act.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel argued for the lockdown to continue in terms of a ban on travel, but permission should be given to states to allow economic activities within its borders. He added that aid was needed from the centre for the MSME sector.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is learnt to have suggested an extension of the lockdown till April 30 in order to contain the infection.
"PM (Narendra Modi) has taken correct decision to extend lockdown," he tweeted after the meeting.
The Telangana government on Saturday decided to extend the lockdown in the state till April 30.
Meanwhile, the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister and including Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Nirmala Sitharaman, will resume work at their ministries from Monday, a day before the end of the lockdown to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus, sources said on Saturday evening.
Senior officials entitled to official transports, i.e., from the rank of Joint Secretary and above, will report in as usual, sources said, adding that a third of all essential staff had to be present. Junior officials will continue to work on rotation basis. Each ministry has also been told to plan for post-lockdown and come up with ideas to kick-start the economy. The Prime Minister has urged that social distancing protocols be followed.
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