As India enters the last week of the 54-day lockdown, several states, including Punjab, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Telangana, pitched for extension of lockdown by two more weeks, during a video interaction between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief ministers of different states on Monday.
In view of 'escalating' virus cases, the national lockdown should be continued with a well-crafted exit strategy to save lives and secure livelihood, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh suggested during PM Modi's interaction with CMs. He also sought greater flexibility in micro-planning for states. Singh suggested the classification of red, green and orange zones should be left to the states and also called for a national testing strategy.
The exit strategy should consider and focus on fiscal and economic empowerment of the states, which are responsible for real action directly impinging upon the livelihood and social health of the common man, said the chief minister. He also demanded urgent fiscal aid for states to meet at least 33 per cent of committed liabilities, revenue grants for 3 months.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in Punjab rose to 1,877, with 54 more people testing positive today. The death due to the infection stands at 31, while number of active cases is 1,678.
Chief ministers of Bihar and Assam have also aired similar concerns. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said that his government is in agreement of extending the lockdown because once the lockdown is lifted, a large influx people will come into the state and increase the risk of transmission.
Assam has also asked for the extension of lockdown by two more weeks and called for restriction on inter-state movement.
Meanwhile, several states raised concerns over the government's move to resume limited operations of passenger trains from Tuesday. According to reports, at least four states, including Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, expressed their concerns during the meeting with PM Modi.
"We know from media that regular train service to Chennai (from Delhi) and from Chennai will commence from May 12. As the (COVID-19) positive cases in Chennai are showing an increasing trend, please don't permit train service up to May 31 in my state," Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami told Modi.
Chattishgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel requested that states should be consulted before allowing regular railway and flights. He also said that state governments should get the right to make decisions on handling of economic activities within their states.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao also opposed the resumption of passenger train services. He said trains from Metro cities which are all red zones may further spread Covid-19.
During their fifth video conference in 51 days, PM hinted that COVID-19 cases increased in those areas where ever there has been laxity in enforcing lockdown challenges. He mentioned that night curfew has proved to be an effective tool in containing the spread of the virus.
He said that there is a global recognition for India's success in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and the Centre appreciates the efforts made by all state governments in this regard. Let us stay the course as we move forward together.
Going forward, the road ahead should be focused on reducing the spread and ensuring that all precautions are taken by people including social distancing norms by observing 'Do Gaj Doori', he added.
The nation-wide lockdown, imposed on March 25, was originally supposed to end on April 14. It was then extended to May 3, and then again to May 17.
By Chitranjan Kumar