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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

States guarded on lifting lockdown, want clarity on movement of workers

West Bengal accused the Centre of sending mixed signals with the relaxation of some curbs, while Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, facing the prospect of hundreds of migrant labourers returning, asked it to specify guidelines in this regard.

Written by Santosh Singh , Manoj C G | New Delhi, Patna | Updated: April 28, 2020 11:40:14 am
States guarded on lifting lockdown, want clarity on movement of workers Migrant workers wait for their medical check-up at a quarantine centre in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, Monday. (Express photo: Ritesh Shukla)

Most states on Monday indicated at the videoconference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that they wanted the lockdown to continue in some form post-May 3, while adding that they would follow the Centre’s lead on the matter.

West Bengal accused the Centre of sending mixed signals with the relaxation of some curbs, while Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, facing the prospect of hundreds of migrant labourers returning, asked it to specify guidelines in this regard.

The PM, one Chief Minister said, did not respond to demands for an economic package.

“The mood was in favour of continuing the lockdown with concessions,” Puducherry CM V Narayanasamy said, while telling The Indian Express that Modi praised Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot for his handling of the coronavirus issue. Follow coronavirus India LIVE Updates

Again, Andhra Pradesh was among the few states to seek relaxation. Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy said that with 80% of the state a virus-free “green zone”, this may be considered. However, Jagan did not say if the state would lift restrictions after May 3. In a televised address later in the day, the CM said that with a vaccine not likely for a year, developing herd immunity was the only option.

States guarded on lifting lockdown, want clarity on movement of workers Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the interaction with Chief Ministers. (Twitter/PIB)

Maharashtra, the state with the most coronavirus numbers, indicated that it could continue the lockdown.

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar sought directions on the issue of its students stuck in Kota and other places, as well as on migrant labourers, while leaving a decision on extension of the lockdown to the Centre. Facing flak for not bringing back students from Kota, he said unless there was a direction from the Centre, it amounted to violation of the curbs.

Read | ICMR tells states to return rapid test kits

On whether the lockdown should go on after May 3, Nitish said, “Experts should be consulted. Bihar will abide by whatever decision the Centre takes.” It also expressed concern over people returning to the state without screening.

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik sought framing of a national SOP for movement of people stranded across the country. The state estimates that over five lakh of its workers are stranded in different parts of the country.

Narayanasamy, who raised the issue of students stuck abroad, said the PM made a “passing remark” saying the migrant labour issue has to be considered, but did not offer any solution.

States guarded on lifting lockdown, want clarity on movement of workers Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, facing the prospect of hundreds of migrant labourers returning, asked it to specify guidelines in this regard. (Express File Photo)

“The Chief Ministers were unanimous in telling the PM that the way in which the coronavirus cases are increasing, there should be a cautious approach and the PM has to take a call on the basis of observations by CMs. Most of the BJP-ruled CMs said the lockdown should continue and economic activity should be slowly started,” he said.

Also Read | The big decision on the unlockdown, its scope and reach

Narayanasamy said he was among the CMs who sought an economic package, as well as the states’ share of GST revenues. “The PM did not respond to that directly. He praised state governments for doing a Herculean task… He praised the Rajasthan CM for his handling of the coronavirus issue,” the CM said.

According to him, the PM said, “Every state has some party in power, which realises that it has a chance to take the country forward. Hamein reform bhi karna hai. Agar reform karne ki disha mein rajya initiative leta hai, aap dekhiye yeh sankat ko hum bohot bade avsar main palat sakte hain. Main Ashok Gehlotji ko badhai dunga. Unhone kai initiative liye. Unhone labour ke liye samay seema ki bi badotri ki hai. Theek hai alochana thodi hue hogi, lekin Rajasthan ne disha dikhayi hai (We have to carry out reforms. If a state takes an initiative for reform, we can turn this crisis into a big opportunity. I want to congratulate Ashok Gehlot. He has taken many initiatives. He has increased the time limit for labourers as well. There must have some criticism, but Rajasthan has shown the way).”

The Prime Minister was apparently referring to the Rajasthan government’s decision to increase working time in factories from 8 hours to 12 hours.

Read | In war room, 5 teams of doctors, data analysts keep watch

Naryanasamy also said there should no general policy regarding opening of shops with states given the freedom to decide on this.

Accusing the Centre of making contradictory statements, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee wanted greater clarity on the Home Ministry order regarding this. “We are in favour of the lockdown. But the Centre on one hand emphasises on this, and on other hand, issues orders to open shops. If you open shops, how will you enforce the lockdown?” Banerjee said.

She added that the state would plan up to May 21. “From the Prime Minister’s speech, it was clear that this will continue for long.”

Fighting a surge in numbers and a high fatality rate, Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani called for a “phased” lifting of the lockdown, “citing the interests of small and medium entrepreneurs and labourers”. He said at the video-conference that most of the deaths in the state were due to co-morbidities.

Having directed opening of single-unit shops except in containment zones on Saturday, Gujarat has revoked the order for Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot and Surat. Rupani said he had received representations from shopkeepers saying they preferred staying closed till May 3, while adding that the state would go by what the Centre decides.

Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath did not give any indication of the state’s plan, even as he ordered officials on Monday to create facilities to quarantine about 10-15 lakh people. Significantly, it also arranged to bring home about 10,000 students from different districts of the state stuck in Prayagraj.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, however, said the state was in no position to bring back its students or labourers. “We Jharkhandis are being punished for following the Central government orders… We have been saying that we want to bring (stranded students, labourers) back. But the MHA issued orders that ban inter-state travel till May 3… Other states are flouting the orders and we have been left helpless,” Soren said at a press conference.

He added that the state won’t open shops as yet, but would follow the Cente’s decision on lifting the lockdown.

Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar urged the government to remove the uncertainty around dates of competitive examinations.

Punjab sought the Centre’s permission for reopening of small shops, businesses and industries in all areas except containment zones. CM Amarinder Singh also wrote a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah, as he was not among the nine CMs to speak at the video-conference, where he mentioned the state’s financial health.

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said the state had told the Centre that the lockdown can continue partially till May 15, advising “a cautious approach” on lifting restrictions. “Considering the peculiar situation in Kerala, partial lockdown can be continued until May 15. The course after May 15 can be decided reviewing the then situation,” the CM said.

Tamil Nadu CM K Palaniswami sought more RT-PCR kits for the state to take testing up from 10,000 a day from 7,500. Its stand on extension of the lockdown curbs, however, was unclear.

Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma said the lockdown in the state will continue post May 3 with relaxation in non-COVID-19 districts. Meghalaya has 11 active positive cases. Sangma also suggested an “Economic Task Force” including all states to suggest solutions to initiate economic activities. “There is an economic state-to-state dependence. The establishment of an economic task force will help states,” he said.

Madhya Pradesh said it would wait for the Centre’s guidelines to decide its post-May 3 plan, while Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao said the lockdown should be extended if necessary as it was the only weapon against the virus.

(with inputs from Kolkata, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Thiruvananthapuram, Guwahati, Bhopal, Mumbai)

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