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Home / News / India /  Extend lockdown, give more economic firepower to fight covid-19: States to Modi

NEW DELHI: Several states on Saturday pitched for an extension of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, that was to end on 14 April, during their video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to government officials.

While chief ministers of Kerala, West Bengal, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Delhi, and governor of Jammu and Kashmir made a case for the extension of lockdown, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy suggested a partial lockdown.

States and the union government have to make a crucial decision over the issue of lives versus livelihood during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

States also sought more resources to deal with the health and the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and pitched for leveraging Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to counter the same.

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren called for increasing the pay and number of work days under MGNREGA. Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao also called for MNREGA to be linked with agriculture for at least two months.

MGNREGA is a demand-driven social security scheme that provides for 100 days of work per rural household with the number of work days allowed to be increased to 150 annually in case of drought, flood or a similar calamity.

K. Chandrashekar Rao and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot also called for quantitative easing or new money supply by the Reserve Bank of India.

While making a case for the quantitative easing to be 5% of the GDP, Rao asked for increasing the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management limit to 6% and deferring the state’ debt service obligations by three to six months.

India had earlier rolled out a 1.7 trillion relief package, to limit the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak, which many experts have termed as inadequate.

Soren also called for the state’ share of Goods and Services Tax (GST) to be released immediately and a year’s moratorium on interest. Given the high number of migrants expected to be back in the state after the end of the lockdown, Soren asked for military help for constructing centres to accommodate them.

This comes in the backdrop of India’s economy losing steam over the last few years with growth declining from 8.3% in FY17 to 7% and to 6.1% in the subsequent two years. In the financial year ended March, growth was projected to be 5% but analysts and rating agencies have sharply scaled it down with the most optimistic projections hovering around 4%.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee demanded a national package amounting to around 6% of the country’s gross domestic product to counter the pandemic and its impact and relief for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector.

India is facing a humanitarian crisis with many migrant workers trudging hundreds of miles from the cities to their homes as the lockdown has rendered them jobless. Even as Modi has leveraged his popularity among Indians to enlist them in the battle against the covid-19 pandemic, India, home to a fifth of the world’s population, saw more than 600,000 daily wagers and their families leaving for their villages.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan called for special non stop trains to be arranged for the stranded people in different parts of country and broad basing the income support schemes for three months.

Given the economic suffering of the people, Vijayan also said that employees’ state insurance corporation (ESIC) should pay wages in a condition like the pandemic.

The International Labour Organisation on Wednesday said India, with high proportion of informal workforce, needs to be on guard as it faces a higher risk of millions of workers falling deeper into poverty.

Several state governments such as Punjab and Odisha have already gone ahead with plans to extend the nationwide lockdown. Kerala and Maharashtra are likely to follow suit for at least some parts.

While Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray suggested allowing industrial activity within the four walls, Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal brought up the issue of Delhi’s tax revenues drying up and it facing a severe revenue crunch.

Also, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik called for GST waiver on personal protective equipment (PPE) and medicines.

In his previous video conference with state chief ministers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought suggestions from states to evolve a common approach to lift the curbs gradually. The decision needs to capture the difficult trade-off that India has to make between prioritizing saving lives and containing the economic damage.

Punjab chief minister captain Amarinder Singh called for a three month crop loan waiver and said that the godowns are full in the state primarily dependent on agriculture.

There is a need to ensure that harvest crops do not get affected because of the lockdown for ensuring India’s food security.

If crops are not shifted where will the agricultural produce be kept, said Singh, according to a government official present in the meeting.

The novel coronavirus outbreak saw its single largest spike in infections on Friday. India was placed under a 21-day lockdown on 25 March. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that lockdown cannot be lifted across the country in one go, there is a need for a decentralised response given that the spread of the diseases has been varied across the country.

Manipur’s chief minister N. Biren Singh raised the issue of racism and discrimination faced by the people from India’s north eastern region in the time of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China.

Singh also raised the issue of stranded Manipuri students and requested for around 30,000 students stuck in different parts of the country to be brought back to the state. He also called for permanent fencing of Manipur’ border with Myanmar.

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