Post 17 May, the ongoing lockdown may continue in some form or the other, but it could be the states that decide its contours. This was the dominant narrative which emerged from the fifth video conference between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Ministers, where state after state vociferously demanded that it was they who should be deciding the containment zones in their respective states and what economic activities should be allowed to start in the non-containment zones.
Six CMs were, however, in favour of extending the lockdown and four of them did not want passenger trains to run. The six are the CMs of Telangana, Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal, Bihar and Assam. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal said that barring containment zones, economic activities should resume in the union territory.
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Bhagel said that state governments should get the right to decide the handling of economic activities in their respective states and that they should also be the ones declaring zones as red, orange and green. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said that the states should be given the freedom to ply public transport, subject to restrictions based on the condition of each state.
Metro rail should be allowed in cities other than those in red zones, subject to restrictions. He also suggested that special trains should be arranged for people stuck in other states but tickets should be given according to the registrations done by state governments and not by online booking. Karnataka CM B.S. Yediyurappa proposed the end of the district wise demarcation of red, orange and green zones. He wanted only containment zones to be identified and strictly cordoned off.
Commercial activities should be allowed in non containment zones. The CMs, in their suggestions on the economy, sought support for the MSME sector, apart from infrastructure projects such as power, easing of interest loans and assured market access. Of the six CMs who wanted the lockdown extended, the Maharashtra CM said that if the lockdown was lifted now, it would impact the state’s fight against the coronavirus.
Punjab CM, Captain Amarinder Singh asked for an extension of the lockdown but with a carefully crafted exit strategy, which is backed by fiscal and economic empowerment of the state. The fireworks in the meeting were provided by West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee, who, according to sources, lashed out at the Central government by saying, “When the Centre has already opened almost everything, when it is starting trains and opening airports, then what is the point in continuing with the lockdown?
We are together in this fight but somehow West Bengal has been targeted by the Central government to get political mileage.” Telangana, Bihar and Tamil Nadu that supported the extension of the lockdown said that the PM should not restart passenger train services at least until 31 May. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar asked the Centre to facilitate the return of the migrant workers to their home states within seven days and said it was a bad idea to start operating public transport.
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot suggested that PM Modi should launch an employment guarantee scheme for urban areas on the lines of MGNREGA. He also said that the states should be given the power to decide the coronavirus zones and that the borrowing limits of the states should be increased. Andhra Pradesh CM Y.S. Jagan Reddy was in favour of restarting inter-state transport for the sake of economic survival.
Whether it’s migrant labourers or people in office, if they did not have access to public transport, the economic situation would not normalize, he said. The meeting went on for six hours, during which PM Modi gave the slogan, “Jan se jag tak”. According to sources, PM Modi congratulated the states and said that it was with their partnership and enthusiasm that the fight against corona would be won. The PM also requested the CMs for specific feedbacks on the lockdown and said that a broad strategy would be formulated depending on how each one of them wanted to deal with the lockdown regime in their states.
The states should build a blue print on the gradual easing of the lockdown. PM Modi also said that he was of the view that measures taken in the first phase were not needed in the second and similarly the measures needed in the third phase were not needed in the fourth. Referring to the resumption of train services, the PM said that this was needed to rev up economic activities but that all routes would not be resumed He added that post corona a new lifestyle would emerge.
Earlier, during his initial intervention, PM Modi said that there was global recognition of India’s success in handling the pandemic and the Central government appreciated the efforts made by all state governments. He spoke of how they now had a clear indication of the geographical spread of the pandemic in India including of the worst affected areas. Also, how the officials had understood the operating procedure right up to the district level.
Speaking on the economy, PM Modi said that slowly but surely economic activities had begun to pick up in several parts of the country and in the coming days this process would gather more steam. Laying the roadmap ahead to take on the coronavirus, the PM said that the road ahead should be focused on reducing the spread and ensuring that the paramount importance was given to “do gaz ki duri”. He emphasised that it should be ensured that rural India remained free of this crisis.