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Modi says ‘jaan bhi jahaan bhi', signals a shift in India’s coronavirus playbook

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during video-conferencing with the chief ministers over COVID19, in New Delhi today. (ANI)Premium
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during video-conferencing with the chief ministers over COVID19, in New Delhi today. (ANI)

  • This implies the government will now focus on not just saving lives but also on kickstarting the economy
  • The PM and the CMs had a video call today. Reports say the national lockdown will be extended to the end of this month

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday signalled a shift in India's strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic, with a renewed focus on ‘jaan’ (life) and ‘jahaan’ (livelihood).

In a statement to chief ministers (CM) at a meeting earlier today, he said a shift has to be made to ensure that lives are saved along with livelihoods. This implicitly suggests India may have turned a corner with the disease and the next stage of lockdown will come with changes.

The PM and the CMs had a more than a five-hour-long meeting today to discuss the need to extend the national lockdown. According to reports, the lockdown, which was to end on 14 April, has been extended by two weeks. There has been no official communication on it so far.

“Our mantra earlier was ‘jaan hai to jahaan hai’ (if there's a life, there's a world) but now is ‘jaan bhi, jahaan bhi," (we need a life, we need the world too) the PM told state CMs according to a union government statement. The PM's statement implies that the government's strategy would now not just be focusing on saving lives but also kickstarting the economy.

Hinting at a decentralised strategy ahead, Modi discussed India’s lockdown playbook with the CMs; that may involve dividing areas into green, orange and red zones.

This significant shift in striking a balance between live and livelihood come the backdrop of increasing demand by several state governments to provide more economic and resource assistance. The Centre will shortly come up with the new guidelines for the lockdown.

“Talking about the exit plan from lockdown, the PM said there seems to be a consensus amongst the states on extension of lockdown by another two weeks," the government statement added.

Modi had earlier made it clear that lockdown could not be lifted in one go. The number of hotspots, or infection clusters, has swollen to 284 across the country, sparking a containment strategy through strict enforcement of restrictions on movement in these areas.

State governments including those from Congress ruled Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have been pointed out that several sectors particularly agriculture, infrastructure and supply chain have got adversely affected because of the lockdown.

At Saturday's meeting, the CMs asked not only for a fresh economic package but also assistance from Union government to announce special provisions for the farm sector.

The timing for a possible extension of lockdown is a cause of worry for several state governments as this is a harvesting season for crops and mandis need to be readied for sale of crops. Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had said that lockdown restrictions would be relaxed for farmers to ensure the movement of harvested crops is not affected.

The states have 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. They have called for increasing the pay and number of work days under MGNREGA.

More than 90% of the country’s workforce is estimated to be from the informal sector. The Economic Survey of 2017-2018 had said 87% of the firms in the country, representing 21% of the total turnover, are operating informally and completely outside the tax and social security nets. Unemployment rate in rural India surged from 8.29% for the week ended 22 March to 20.29% on 29 March and 20.21% on 5 April, data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) showed.

The states have also called for quantitative easing or new money supply by the Reserve Bank of India, increasing the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management limit to 6% and deferring the state’ debt service obligations by three to six months.

“He (PM) emphasized the criticality of coming 3-4 weeks for determining the impact of the steps taken till now to contain the virus, adding that teamwork is the key to facing the challenge," the statement added.

Apart from the CMs, the meeting was also attended by home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh, health minister Harsh Vardhan, principal secretary P.K. Mishra, cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba, and other senior union government officials.

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