Even as the Centre and states are still weighing their options on extending the 21-day lockdown beyond April 14, Odisha became the first state to clearly spell out its plan of action: that its statewide lockdown will continue till April 30. The state government also said it would recommend to the Centre to extend the national lockdown to the same date and request for rail and air services to the state to be stopped until then.
“The state Cabinet, which met today, decided that saving lives of our people is the top most priority at this juncture,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said in a written statement that was shared by the state government on Thursday. “We have decided to extend the lockdown till April 30. We will recommend to the Government of India to extend the national lockdown (up to the same time period)… We will also request the Union Government not to start airline and railway services till April 30,” the statement added.
The state also promulgated an ordinance amending a section of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, with a provision of imprisonment for up to two years for those found violating the epidemic regulations.
While state after state has signalled their intention to extend the lockdown — Karnataka being the latest to say that the Cabinet wants the lockdown to be “continued for another 15 days” — Odisha’s announcement is seen as a step forward, setting the tone for deliberations on exit strategies when Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with Chief Ministers on Saturday morning.
Odisha’s announcement is set to impact the options being considered by other states as they formulate their exit strategies. More so, because Odisha has a relatively low coronavirus positive case load at 44 in about 5,865 cases across the country. The state has so far reported one death and two recoveries, and tested 2,841 samples.
Odisha’s request to stop train and flight services to the state until April 30 is likely to have a cascading effect on any policy decision on resumption of Railway services.
This request has a bearing on the migrant-origin as well as migrant-destination states as they formulate their exit strategies after April 14. According to the 2011 Census migration data that was released last year, Odisha is the fifth largest state in terms of net migration origins.
Odisha’s request to stop trains and flights is a clear signal to migrants from the state to stay put in their places for the moment. Surat, India’s third largest migrant magnet, for example, hosts a large number from Odisha.
“Given the slump in economic activities, there is all likelihood of all migrants rushing back to the native places at the very first opportunity. This will compromise whatever gains are made in breaking the outbreak transmission in the three weeks of the lockdown. This is weighing on our mind while considering exit strategies,” said a source who was present in the last meeting of the informal group of ministers on this issue.
Odisha’s decision has great significance for states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and West Bengal, which are top migrant exporters to other states, according to the 2011 Census.
If these states decide to take Odisha’s cue, this will mean additional responsibility for the net migrant host states – Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka and Punjab in that order, according to the 2011 Census – to manage the economic anxiety among this section of population within their jurisdiction.
Given how several states have relaxed lockdown rules for agricultural operations, some states can use migrants in their rural areas for rabi harvesting operations. However, the situation in the urban areas may need a different solution, given the clampdown on economic activities.
Patnaik too signalled that the lockdown norms could be less stringent in rural areas, saying “activities related to agriculture, animal husbandry, and MGNREGS will be facilitated during the lockdown period following social distance norms”.
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