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Covid-19: Graded lifting of curbs from April 20; states to decide zones of containment

Coronavirus (COVID-19): A close reading of the guidelines indicates the government’s keenness to support the rural poor and urban migrant workers who have suffered the most due to stringent lockdown curbs.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi |
Updated: April 16, 2020 8:30:02 am
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Coronavirus (COVID-19): The centre on Wednesday issued guidelines effective April 20 lifting restrictions on a range of activities in the rural and agriculture sector, manufacturing in SEZs and industrial zones, and e-commerce operations. Strict restrictions will, however, continue in COVID-19 containment zones notified by respective states.

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A close reading of the guidelines indicates the government’s keenness to support the rural poor and urban migrant workers who have suffered the most due to stringent lockdown curbs. Unlike the 21-day lockdown, the suddenness of which had left states unprepared in tackling the migrant rush back home, Wednesday’s guidelines by the Ministry of Home Affairs gives them five days to calibrate resumption of activities.

Clearly, almost all activities in rural areas have been approved — MNREGA works, MSMEs, food processing, construction of roads, buildings, irrigation and industrial projects, work in factories outside the limits of municipalities and municipal corporations, brick kilns, tea, coffee and rubber plantations, gaushalas, and Common Service Centres. Even within the limits of municipalities, construction projects where workers are available on site, have been permitted.

“These activities will create job opportunities for rural labour, including the migrant labour force,” an MHA statement said. Relaxation of curbs in non-containment zones after April 20 aims to provide income to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid in rural and urban areas — from farm hands and dhaba workers to motor mechanics, electricians, plumbers and workers in industrial units.

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Interpreting the guidelines, an MHA official said, “This is the harvesting season, and free movement of agricultural equipment and labour will provide relief to farmers. Casual labourers will also find work in rural industrial units, through MNREGA and at brick kilns, which will also kickstart construction work,” a Home Ministry official said.

“We hope that by the time the lockdown is over, this will give some impetus to rural consumption and boost the economy. Sustaining stranded migrant labour in cities is becoming difficult. The operationalisation of urban manufacturing units will help them,” the official said.

Given that the trajectory of the pandemic is different for each state, they have been given more control of Covid containment measures to be followed. Positive cases in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are large and have risen sharply. The Northeast comparatively has witnessed far few cases. The containment needs of these states thus vary.

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States will have the liberty to notify Covid containment zones depending upon their assessment of the scale of the outbreak in an area or region. This would be judged on the basis of number of cases in an area or growth rate of the infection. There would be strict perimeter security in these areas with severe restrictions on public movement. While states cannot dilute the Centre’s guidelines, they can tighten these based on the requirement of the situation.

To ensure smooth implementation of the new guidelines, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba Tuesday held a meeting with state chief secretaries and police chiefs. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation announcing lockdown extension till May 3, the Home Ministry had issued formal orders on Tuesday stating that lockdown guidelines issued earlier through notifications on March, 24, 25, 27 and April 2, 4 and 10 shall remain in force till April 20.

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In allowing these new activities, the MHA has asked certain social distancing and hygiene norms to be followed. These include no more than 50 per cent workers or employees to be allowed in factories or manufacturing units, all equipment entering the premises to be sanitised, premises to be disinfected regularly, no overlapping of shifts and staggered lunch breaks. It has also asked all factories to provide medical insurance to all workers.

“Manufacture of IT hardware and of essential goods and packagings are also allowed. Coal, mineral and oil production are permitted activities. It is expected that the industrial and manufacturing sectors will see a revival with these measures, and will create job opportunities while maintaining safety protocols and social distancing. At the same time, the important components of the financial sector, e.g., RBI, banks, ATMs, capital and debt markets as notified by SEBI and insurance companies will also remain functional, with a view to provide enough liquidity and credit support to the industrial sectors,” the MHA statement quoting the guidelines said.

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In urban areas, manufacturing and other industrial establishments with access control in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Export Oriented Units (EoUs), industrial estates, and industrial townships have been allowed. “These establishments shall make arrangements for stay of workers within their premises as far as possible and/ or adjacent buildings… The transportation of workers to work place shall be arranged by the employers in dedicated transport by ensuring social distancing,” the guidelines said.

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At the same time the MHA has issued “National Directives for COVID-19 management” which have to be enforced by the District Magistrates through fines and penal action as prescribed in the Disaster Management Act, 2005. In containment zones, no unchecked inward/ outward movement of population would be allowed, except for maintaining essential services, i.e., medical emergencies and law and order duties, and government business continuity.

The activities prohibited across the country include travel by air, rail and road; operation of educational and training institutions; industrial and commercial activities; hospitality services; all cinema halls, shopping complexes, theatres, etc., all social, political and other events, and opening of all religious places/ places of worship for members of public, including religious congregations.

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