Urging the Centre to work closely with states to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh Tuesday said that the lockdown to limit the spread of the infection can’t continue indefinitely.
In a video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amarinder suggested to set up a group, including the chief ministers, to discuss and formulate a coordinated Centre-state response to the impact of Covid on the economy and governments across the country.
Amarinder said while living with Covid was the new normal as the lockdown can’t continue indefinitely, the need of the hour is to take care of both lives and livelihoods, as the PM had himself said in his earlier video conference in April.
The Punjab CM recalled that when in early April he had said that the coronavirus crisis could go on till September, he had been called an alarmist by some people. But with experts now warning that the pandemic could continue even beyond September, it is important to learn to co-exist with it and cope with it better, he stressed.
Calling for urgent steps to mitigate Punjab’s financial stress, the CM said a detailed memorandum has already been sent to the Centre, listing out the impact of Covid-19 and also seeking fiscal and non-fiscal assistance.
Even as he thanked the prime minister for the release of Rs 2,800 crore in GST arrears in early June, Singh said though he appreciated that the Centre was also under financial stress, he had to request for the release of the state’s pending share of taxes to tide over the fiscal crisis.
The crisis in Punjab is likely to be acute with around Rs 25,000-30,000 crore shortfall in revenue collection on various counts, he said.
Even though Punjab’s contribution to the all-India cases was less than one per cent, with a mortality rate of 2.1 per cent and recovery rate of 75 per cent, the curve is rising as a result of the inbound travellers and the easing of restrictions and more mixing of people, the CM said.
Emphasising the need for more tests, despite the current 5,527 tests per 10 lakh population in Punjab being higher than the all-India average of 4,088, Singh reiterated his request for direction to central institutions in Chandigarh and Punjab to increase their testing capacity.
On the state’s preparedness to tackle further spread of the pandemic, the Chief Minister informed the meeting that 5000 isolation beds were ready in Government Level 2 & 3 facilities, in addition to 10-15,000 beds in Level 1 Covid Care Centres for mild patients.
These Level 1 beds can be scaled to 30,000, if the need arises, he said, adding that for tertiary level care, the state government had also secured the participation of private hospitals for tertiary level care.
Amarinder said the state government was working on a multi-pronged strategy to fight the pandemic. Some restrictions have been imposed on weekends and holidays, and strict enforcement of all protocols was being ensured through fines. The focus is currently on a micro-containment strategy to isolate small ‘mohallas’ or villages rather than close down larger areas, he said.
Amarinder also spoke about the Mission Fateh launched to generate public awareness and the focus on facilitating a behavioural change through celebrity endorsements, videos, on-ground activities and through fines.
A special app had also been launched for house-to-house surveillance to detect any possible cases and persons with co-morbidities to catch high-risk patients early, the CM added.
He reiterated his request for extension of the free food grains scheme for the poor by six months, and expressed the hope that the Centre would take note of his earlier suggestion on providing revenue grants to the States for 3 months to meet shortfall in revenue and to fund expenditure on Covid-19.
The 15th Finance Commission should also review its report for the current year as situation has completely changed due to Covid-19, as proposed earlier, he added.
Pointing to the Centre’s decision to allow increase in borrowing limits under FRBM Act from 3 to 5%, which required 3 of the 4 conditions to be fulfilled to avail full 2% additional borrowing, the Chief Minister urged the Prime Minister to relook some of the conditions, given the situation on the ground.
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