Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video-conference with Chief Ministers on Monday assumes importance for the role it will play in deciding whether or not India will go for a further lockdown post May 3. Considering the situation is alarming in certain states and union territories, namely Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat and West Bengal, among others, it is but expected that they will push for a blanket lockdown at least until the end of May. In fact, some of these states have already announced such lockdowns, stretched as they are to their limits in trying to cope with the rising number of coronavirus cases. However, can an economy already in dire straits afford another three-week shutdown? Sooner or later business will have to return to normal as there won’t be much left of business otherwise. A movement towards a staggered exit from a blanket lockdown has been made by allowing standalone shops to open. Post May 3, this movement has to gather momentum.
So, whatever the Chief Ministers might say, it is expected that the Central government will give its nod to the opening up of shops and markets at least for limited hours in zones that are not marked as “red hot”. In fact, the government should consider the opening of shops in malls and market complexes as well, even if it delays giving permission to restaurants and movie halls to resume business. In any market complex or mall, it is these two that attract the maximum crowd and have to be opened in a phased manner. Liquor shops too should be allowed to open. Liquor is, after all, one of the biggest sources of revenue for most state governments and in this context the Centre should pay heed to Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh that liquor comes in sealed bottles and is “safer” than fruits and vegetables being sold in the open.
There is already speculation that a backdoor attempt is being made to impose prohibition on the country by keeping liquor shops closed. Such speculation is best nipped in the bud. The need of the hour is also to mark “green zones” of economic “normalcy”—islands of industrial activity, which has been stalled for over a month now. It goes without saying that all these activities will have to restart in a scaled down manner. It will not be business as usual from 4 May. Much micro-level coordination is needed between the Centre and the states for this. Imposing a blanket lockdown is much easier than a gradual opening up of the economy, while also ensuring that public health is not jeopardised—but that is the need of the hour and has to be ensured.