New Delhi: As ‘what’s next?’ was the agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fourth video conference with Chief Ministers, he asked them to come back with a detailed plan on how they seek to ease the lockdown, said sources on Monday. The source, however added, no final decision was taken about either the extension or the relaxation in the same. The second leg of the lockdown ends on May 3.
While most Chief Ministers advocated for the extension of the lockdown, a significant number of states raised their economic concerns with the Prime Minister. There were nine Chief Ministers who spoke on Monday. Out of the nine, at least four advocated for an extension of the lockdown. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is believed to have asked for the lockdown to be extended for another month.
However, most states wanted greater economic activities to be allowed that may address the twin concerns of job losses and revenue shortfall. Already states like Punjab have written to the Centre asking it to allow the sale of liquor due to the massive revenue shortfalls.
Unlike the third meeting, there has been a nuanced demand from many states as far as extension of the lockdown is concerned rather than a blanket extension. For instance, Meghalaya demanded the lockdown to continue while activities be allowed in green zones. Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said, “We have mooted to continue with the lockdown post May 3rd with relaxation on activities in Green Zones or non-Covid affected districts in Meghalaya”.
The Prime Minister is believed to have told the Chief Ministers in Monday’s meeting that the target should be to turn red zones into orange and orange zones into green. Sources say, he was not closed to the idea of allowing the limited activity, but wanted states to come up with a fine print on how they seek to do that while ensuring the “do gaz doori” principle was adhered to.
Modi said that India as a whole and states will have to give importance to the economy while continuing the fight against COVID-19. He suggested that both are equally important. “We have to be brave and bring in reforms that touch the lives of common citizens,” he told the Chief Ministers.
However, he warned that the danger of COVID-19 is far from over and vigilance, particularly in the coming days and months will prove crucial on how India will fare in dealing with the outbreak. He added that the importance for states to enforce guidelines strictly in the hotspots or the red zone areas is a must. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that the need to enforce lockdown is crucial so that maximum lives are saved.
Meanwhile, on the issue of getting back the Indians who are overseas, he said that this has to be done keeping in mind the fact that they don’t get inconvenienced and their families are not under any risk.
Government sources indicate, any decision on ‘What’s Next’, is unlikely to come before the states get back with their fine print on how they want to give area specific relaxations. In other words, the Prime Minister has not just made the Chief Ministers give their suggestions and voice concerns, but also let them tell the tell the Centre on how they want to do it.