Home >News >India >As India opens up for business, states to call the shots

While extending the world’ severest lockdown in containment areas till June end, the Indian government has considerably eased off restrictions in other parts of the country to restart its economy.

With the economic situation expected to worsen further, the new lockdown 5.0 playbook involves phased reopening, with the onus largely shifting to the states. The country has been under stringent lockdown since 25 March with the lockdowns being extended four times since then to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

In areas outside containment zones all activities will be allowed with certain exceptions. In the first phase starting 8 June, all activities in religious places, places of worship for public, hotels, restaurants, hospitality services and shopping malls will be allowed; after following the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be prescribed by the health ministry.

Mint reported about the decentralised strategy to be adopted by India on 11 April.

Following the outcry over privacy concerns, the government has also softened its position regarding Aarogya Setu mobile application by removing the mandatory provision for the app’s download as earlier.

However, a night curfew will continue wherein, all movement has been prohibited from 9 pm to 5 am throughout the country except for essential services. It will be upon local authorities to issue orders and ensure strict compliance.

There is growing criticism that the lockdown, while necessary, was unplanned, resulting in a mass migration, the biggest since partition. Even as the government has announced a Rs20 trillion stimulus package; concerns are being raised across the country for overlooking the plight of migrant workers who have been worst hit by the lockdown.

In what may come as a huge relief to people stuck around the country, unrestricted inter and intra-state movement of goods and passengers from 1 June has been allowed. While the provision of a separate permission, approval or e-permit has been dropped, if a state or an union territory plans to impose restrictions on people movement, it can do so by giving ‘wide publicity in advance’ regarding the restrictions.

India is now among the top nine countries with covid-19 infections – more than 170,000 cases of infection and about 5,000 deaths. The new guidelines will help re-enforce a ‘new normal’, something that has been not been tried on this scale for 1.3 billion people in a democratic framework.

The decisions announced on Saturday assume significance as most of the state governments, both Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition ruled, have been demanding that the government should allow greater economic activity and lockdown should be focused on containment zones. The union government has categorically stated on Saturday that state governments can prohibit these relaxations outside containment zones if it is necessary.

With around one out of every four workers in India without work, the Indian economy is staring at an economic precipice as businesses down shutter and job losses become a norm.

To be sure, India has been facing economic headwinds much before the coronavirus pandemic created mayhem across geographies. India’s economic growth has slumped to its lowest level in the current series at 3.1% in the March quarter as fresh data suggested the economy may be heading for a major shock in the June quarter. Data released by the statistics department showed during FY20, GDP grew at 4.2% against 6.1% in the previous year as private consumption slowed down and investment demand contracted even before the pandemic hit the economy.

In its 30 May order, the home ministry has extended the lockdown in containment zones till 30 June and “to reopen prohibited activities in a phased manner in areas outside containment zones."

A containment zone is defined by the state which is a geographical area having dispersion of covid-19 cases and their contacts. The movement is restricted in containment zones and the adjoining blocks of the affected district or rural districts of the affected city are known as buffer zones, also defined by the states.

“In the Containment Zones, there shall be intensive contact tracing, house-to-house surveillance, and other clinical interventions, as required," the order said.

In the second phase; a decision will be taken in July about the reopening of the schools, colleges, educational, training and coaching institutions among others after consultations with states and union territories. An SOP

for this purpose will be prepared by the health ministry for ensuring social distancing and to contain the spread of the pandemic.

“State Governments/ UT administrations may hold consultations at the institution level with parents and other stakeholders," the order said.

In the third phase based on the situation prevalent at that time in the country; the dates for restarting activities such as international air travel, metro rail services, cinema halls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars and auditoriums, assembly halls and similar places will be decided.

These activities also include; social, political, sports, entertainment, academic, cultural, religious functions and other large congregations. This assumes importance as Bihar is to witness assembly elections later this year, and West Bengal going to polls next year.

It will remain compulsory for wearing face cover in public places; workplaces; and during travel. The people must maintain a minimum distance of six feet in public places and more than five people at one time will not be allowed in shops.

The consumption of liquor, paan, gutka and tobacco remains prohibited in public places. Many of these are already in place like for instance no spitting in public places and no more than 50 people attending a marriage ceremony.

“Movement by passenger trains and Shramik special trains; domestic passenger air travel; movement of Indian Nationals stranded outside the country and of specified persons to travel abroad; evacuation of foreign nationals; and sign-on and sign-off of Indian seafarers will continue to be regulated as per SOPs issued," the order said.

The order also states that staggering of work and business hours will be followed and provisions for screening and hygiene to be made at all entry and exit points and common areas.

The coronavirus pandemic pales in comparison with the Great Depression or the mayhem caused by Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918. Incidentally the early last century's flu claimed 10-20 million Indians lives, making it the worst-hit country.

Gyan Varma, Anuja, Elizabeth Roche, Neetu Chandra Sharma & Shreya Nandi contributed to the story

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