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Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Time to announce partial to total lockdowns in most towns, cities: P Chidambaram

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram speaks to The Indian Express on what he thinks about the government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: March 18, 2020 5:56:22 pm
Time to announce partial to total lockdowns in most towns, cities: P Chidambaram Former Union minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram. (File)

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram speaks to The Indian Express on what he thinks about the government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Covid 19 is spreading. The government has already notified it as a disaster. It has also suspended visas…how do you see the steps taken by the government? Are they sufficient?

The steps taken by the government appear to be satisfactory. But based on assessments made by the WHO, ICMR, Dr Devi Shetty and others, it appears that the time has come to take tougher and firmer and may be even harsher measures. I would think that we are likely to fall behind the curve. It is when the number reaches about 100 plus, then there is the danger of the virus being transmitted through community transmission. If you look at what happened in Italy and Spain, leave out China, you will find that it’s in the third week when the number crossed hundred then it jumped dramatically. Now, I’m sincerely hoping that it won’t happen in India. But we must be careful to ensure that it does not happen in India. This is the time I think to announce partial to total lockdowns in most of our towns and cities. And tell the people it will be painful but they have to bear the pain for about two to four weeks. It is much better to do it now rather than worry about it after one week or 10 days. In fact, they should do it today.

Do you think the government should now take the people into confidence…may be the Prime Minister should address the nation…

I think the Prime Minister should convene a meeting of the Chief Ministers either in person or through video conference and confer with them and ask them what their feedback is from the ground because they are the persons on the ground. Many of them are ahead of the government. For example, Karnataka, Kerala seem to be a little ahead of the government in imposing lockdowns. Some are behind the government. Therefore, a uniform protocol is to be evolved for the whole country. And if it is necessary to lock down all towns and cities for two to four weeks, we should not hesitate to do so. It is better to be safe than sorry.

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Are you happy with the level of coordination between the Centre and states?

There is apparently official-level coordination between the Centre and the states. That is taking place either on telephone or by emails or video conferencing of which we do not know. It is only when there is a publicised video conference between Prime Minister and Chief Ministers and people are encouraged to watch it that we will know how prepared the states are and what one state is doing may be a lesson for another state.

Prime Minister spoke to heads of states of neighbouring countries…SAARC countries. Did it surprise you that he did not speak to the chief ministers.

May be the video conference with SAARC countries has some advantage but that is not the issue today. Clearly a tremendous advantage is if the prime minister holds a video conference with the Chief Ministers.

Coronavirus in India: Odisha makes registration of overseas visitors mandatory Passengers coming out of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International (SVPI) Airport were seen wearing air masks in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. (Express photo Javed Raja)

What will be the economic impact?

Worldwide, everybody has agreed there will be an economic impact. The world economy has slowed down and the coronavirus will affect the world economy more. India will also suffer but that is inevitable. It’s an external factor and we can’t blame the government for the impact of coronavirus. Whatever impact it has, we will have to bear the pain.

There is already a slowdown in India?

That slowdown is because of internal reasons and internal lack of decision-making. We have addressed it separately. We think that the government is not doing enough to stimulate domestic demand. That is a separate issue. But if coronavirus worldwide has an impact on the Indian economy, because trade will be affected, import-export will be affected, investments will be affected, employment will be affected…well, that pain we will have to bear and you can’t blame the government for the external factor.

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In this case, should the government be doing something to soften the blow?

Government can’t do anything about the external factor, except take preventive and containment measures against the spread of coronavirus. But on the domestic economy, about stimulating domestic demand and addressing domestic issues of sectors, of course, government can do a lot. We have already told the government all the things that can be done but for some reason the government does not listen to us and does not do those things. Even yesterday, the RBI Governor’s statement was extremely disappointing.

Why?

The issue is not one of liquidity….who wants credit who’s willing to give credit. The issue is one of increasing demand so that production can be maintained, if not increased. If you don’t address those issues, and I don’t expect the RBI governor to address those issues, but yes he should flag those issues so that the government can address it. RBI is only responsible for monetary policy but the entire burden of saving the economy can’t fall on monetary policy. The large part of the lift has to be…heavy-lifting has to be done by government.

On the steps to tackle the spread of coronavirus, the financial burden and other logistical issues…how the burden should be shared between the Centre and states?

I think these are secondary matters. This is a national crisis. If the states want money, the Centre has to provide the money. I think there are ways in which the Centre can save a lot of money and provide the money. I have already written that every grandiose, every wasteful project must be mercilessly chopped today. And those monies must be immediately sequestered and poured into fighting coronavirus. Look at the amount of money that the US has committed. And even Singapore has committed. We have not made any commitment of money for coronavirus. Neither the PM nor the FM has made a statement, yes we are providing X thousand crores for coronavirus. They have not made that statement. They should.

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