Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced compliance relief for taxpayers and financial support including free LPG and transfer for poor households for three months triggering speculation that the 21-day lockdown could be extended to June 30, but, top government officials and public health experts have dismissed the theory.
A senior bureaucrat said the outbreak of Coronavirus had been impacting trade and businesses since February and is likely to go much beyond the current 21-day lockdown. He said relief for three months was the least government can provide given the scale of economic disruption. "The government is reviewing the situation on daily basis. The situation is evolving every day and decisions are being taken accordingly," he said.
Nirmala Sitharaman had on Tuesday announced a slew of compliance reliefs for businesses to help companies tide over the Covid-19 crisis. While the country has gone into lockdown, travel, aviation and hospitality sectors have seen massive demand slumps as Corona fear gripped people.
In the wake of a surge in Corona crisis and the impending fear of a public health crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a complete lockdown of the country. All manufacturing units of non-essential goods remain closed. This has driven millions of contract workers in labour-intensive sectors such as retail, construction and textile out of work.
The Finance Ministry took inputs from various ministries on the extent of impact of Covid-19 and discussed concerns with industry. It is expected to come out with sector-specific emergency relief measures.
"It is well known that services sectors have been worst-affected. There are some labour intensive sectors which have been severely hit and more attention needs to be paid to them, NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar told Business Today. He added it is difficult to estimate the impact of the Covid-19 crisis as yet.
"Until we come out of this, it is difficult to assess," he added. Ratings firm Care Ratings has estimated the economic loss on account of the 21-day lockdown at Rs 6.3-7.2 lakh crore.
While announcing Rs 1.7 lakh crore relief package for the poor, Sitharaman hinted more emergency aids would be announced in due course after assessing the impact of the pandemic on various sectors. The various relief measures announced under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana would continue for three months. This had sparked rumours that the current lockdown could be extended further.
"Coronavirus character and DNA change in time. Hopefully, in three weeks' time it should die down. The number should start dipping during this period after reaching its peak. The government is preparing for the worst but not necessary that it will extend beyond three weeks," said Dr Rajan Sharma, IMA president. "We are the only country of this size which has less than 1,000 Covid and 12-14 unfortunate casualties," he added terming the government approach balanced and proactive.
Dr Shakti Gupta, Medical Superintendent of RP Centre at AIIMS also said that the spread of Coronavirus would be effectively contained if the lockdown is followed strictly and sincerely. He further said government can review the situation after three weeks.