Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday reiterated to the Centre his demand for special trains to take migrant workers back to their home states, asking that guidelines for this be issued before the end of April. Also, the state withdrew all relaxations of the lockdown issued on April 17 that came into effect on April 20 in the metropolitan areas of Mumbai and Pune.
Uddhav reiterated his demand in a meeting with the Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) that was dispatched to Mumbai on Tuesday for an assessment of the state government’s efforts against COVID-19. He also told the team that the Union government should fulfill the state government’s demands for personal protective equipment kits and ventilators. Further, he requested the Centre to relax norms for distribution of foodgrains to those who do not have ration cards.
The state withdrew relaxations of the lockdown issued on April 17 in metropolitan areas of Mumbai and Pune, after the central team raised objections to these. Uddhav held a separate video conference with the team, which came here a day after the Centre expressed concern at the violations of the lockdown in some states, including Maharashtra.
According to a press statement from the Chief Minister’s Office, he told the IMCT that the state government had made “proper arrangements” for food, shelter and other facilities for around six lakh migrants workers in relief camps across Maharashtra.
“Despite all this, the workers still want to go to their homes and have taken an aggressive stand on some occasions. If the Union government feels that the number of COVID-19 cases may go up between April 30 and May 15, the Centre should consider whether we can utilise the time we have in our hand to make arrangements for special trains to transport migrant workers to their native places. And the guidelines should be issued before end of April in this regard,” emphasised Uddhav during the interaction with the ICMT through the video conference on Tuesday evening.
Uddhav had made the same demand in a video conference with his counterparts from other states and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 11.
The state government’s U-turn on the relaxations to the lockdown in Mumbai and Pune came after the IMCT for Mumbai, led by Additional Secretary (Food Processing Industries) Manoj Joshi, held separate deliberations with Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope and officials, including Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta and Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.
Hours after his meeting with the team, Mehta issued revised guidelines. “In view of a large number of people commuting because of the relaxations issued under the order dated April 17,2020 and also the imminent threat of a further spread of the pandemic so far as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and the Pune Metropolitan Region (PMR) areas are concerned, the order (dated April 17, 2020) shall not apply and the position prevailing before the issue of the order shall be reinstated. All enforcing authorities will ensure that these instructions are followed scrupulously,” the new order said.
A separate IMCT is in Pune for an assessement of that city. The IMCTs, which will submit a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, have been authorised to issue necessary directions to the state authorities.
The April 17 guidelines had permitted construction work on existing projects in Mumbai and Pune that had workers available on site, and on the condition that all COVID-19 precautionary measures are in place. The central team objected to this relaxation, sources said.
Joshi, when contacted, refused to comment on the issue, but senior state officials said that the IMCT had contended that this and some other concessions diluted the Centre’s common exit strategy in regard to the nationwide lockdown. Also reversed was the state’s move to permit industries operating outside municipal limits in the hotspots of MMR and PMR.
A senior state official said this would impact the plan for resumption of economic activity as 52 per cent (18,878 of 36,623) of registered factories in Maharashtra were located in these two regions. Till Tuesday, barely 970 factories, involved in the manufacture of essential goods and commodities, were functional.
Following the Centre’s objections, the state also reinstated work from home orders for IT companies in these two areas, reversing the move to permit those in non-containment zones to resume with 50 per cent staff capacity. The same order will apply to call centres and data centres.
Meanwhile, the exemptions to confectionaries, farsan marts, and sweet shops (without in-dining) have been withdrawn across the state.
The Centre had earlier cautioned states that there should be no dilution of its operational guidelines. In line with the Centre’s move, the state has disallowed movement of vehicles belonging to e-commerce operators for non-essential commodities.
Permission for delivery of online purchases of electrical and electronic appliances has also been revoked. State officials, however, clarified that exemptions to units involved in production, packaging, transportation and sale of agriculture and horticulture produce will continue even in MMR and PMR.
A media statement from the CMO pointed out that Uddhav had warned people that the relaxations would be withdrawn if they failed to observe the rules of the lockdown strictly.
The IMCT inspected arrangements in the dense containment zone of Worli Koliwada and the quarantine facility at Worli’s National Sports Complex of India. The media statement from CMO said Joshi praised the containment plan at Worli Koliwada and that it could be replicated in other places.
On Wednesday, the team is likely to inspect facilities at Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi, which has reported 180 cases so far. The team discussed strategies to slow down the infection rate and the high mortality rate during its deliberations with officials. Joshi told The Indian Express that the team would submit a report to the Centre.