Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Ministers of all states held a six-hour meeting via video-conferencing on Monday (May 11) to discuss a roadmap for the country’s revival as the third lockdown draws to a close.
Most CMs aired similar concerns on certain aspects like reviving the economy but had divergent views on other issues like opening up of public transport and public-utility services.
The Prime Minister, in his opening remarks, said the country and its health administrators were largely aware of the geographical spread of the epidemic by now. “This would help in evolving strategies to counter it in the days ahead,” he added.
“Economic activities have slowly begun to pick up in several parts of the country. This process will further gather steam in the following days. We must realize that the fight against COVID-19 has to be more focused now. Going forward, the road ahead should be focused on reducing the spread and ensuring that all precautions are taken by people,” Modi said.
The Chief Ministers, in turn, appreciated the PM’s leadership in these tough times and sought the strengthening of the health infrastructure of the country. Here is what the Chief Ministers of various states had to say:
States need freedom to decide lockdown extension, says Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said different states face different challenges, and therefore should be given the freedom to make reasonable changes to the guidelines relating to the lockdown.
“States should be given the freedom to permit public transport, subject to restrictions based on the conditions of each state and Metro rail service should be allowed in cities other than those in red zone, subject to restrictions,” he said.
Telugu States take divergent stands on exiting lockdown
The Chief Ministers of the two Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have taken divergent stands on resuming public transport but spoke in one voice while pitching for increased central assistance to tide over the coronavirus crisis.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao opposed resumption of train services, saying it would lead to chaos and make the containment of COVID-19 much more difficult. His Andhra counterpart Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, however, batted for easing of restrictions on the movement of people and opening up the economic activity, particularly in the non-containment zones.
During the video conference with Modi, KCR (as the Telangana CM is popularly known) wanted suspension of passenger train services across the country till the spread of the virus was brought under control.
However, Jagan spoke about the need to restore public transportation, saying it was necessary to help people reach their workplaces and do their chores.
“Be it daily wage labourers, migrant workers or employees, everyone needs public transportation. Without it, normal life will be affected, and the state economy adversely impacted,” Jagan said.
The AP CM also called for resumption of inter-state transportation so that the supply chains could be restored, and hurdles in the movement of migrant workers removed, helping the industries to function with adequate workforce.
“Without it, revitalising the country’s economy is not possible,” he said.
On the other hand, KCR pointed out that no state had the wherewithal to screen the train passengers at stations and quarantine them. “Under the prevailing circumstances, it will be difficult to monitor each passenger travelling in the trains. Neither are we equipped to conduct tests for everyone nor can we keep them in quarantine facilities. It will be better if the Centre decides against operating passenger trains for now,” he said.\
KCR also urged the Prime Minister to declare districts that do not have positive or active cases as green or orange zones, allowing the states to restore normalcy in such districts. He wanted the Centre to change the zones as per requests from the respective state governments without any delay.
Both the Chief Ministers remained non-confrontationist in their approach, refraining from criticising the NDA government over its handling of the lockdown and its aftermath.
Telangana seeks relaxation of FRBM norms
The Telangana CM strongly pitched for rescheduling of loans obtained by state governments and increasing FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) limits to enable the states to go for more borrowings.
With the revenues hitting the rock bottom due to the pandemic, the state governments are in no position to repay their debts, he said and wanted the Centre to come to their rescue.
Andhra requests loan for healthcare assistance
Jagan sought ₹16,000 crore from the Centre to improve healthcare infrastructure in the state. He also sought long-term interest-free or low-interest loans, so that the state can ramp up healthcare infrastructure from the village level to teaching-hospital level and set up 16 teaching hospitals.
“Loans taken to improve healthcare infrastructure in the state should be taken out of the purview of the FRBM,” Jagan said.
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He also advocated the need for framing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) on wearing masks, using sanitisers and maintaining physical distance at workplaces across the country.
Pointing out that there are over 87,000 MSMEs in the state, employing 9.7 lakh people, the CM called for waiving the interest on loans taken by them for at least two quarters.
Mamata Banerjee hits out at Amit Shah during meeting
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in her characteristic style, banged files on the table, much to the surprise of her other counterparts, during the meeting with the Prime Minister.
She launched a scathing attack on Union Home Minister Amit Shah and accused the home ministry of deliberately trying to target her government as part of a “political script”.
Apart from those accusations, she also suggested that the decision to mark hotspots and containment zones should be left to the state governments, which are in a better position to take a call based on the ground scenario.
On the financial front, she reiterated the demand that the Centre should immediately clear the state’s due of over ₹50,000 crore. She also urged the Centre to allow the state to directly borrow from the RBI at the current repo rate.
This suggestion was made because states are currently facing difficulties with raising money from the markets, as lenders are charging stiff interest rates.
She also sought a three year interest moratorium and restructuring of debts.
Yediyurappa seeks resumption of public transport
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, during the meeting with Modi, advocated doing away with district-wise color coding and just follow strict measures to cordon off containment zones.
He also suggested resumption of economic activities and public transport in all areas except containment zones.
Furthermore, Yediyurappa asked the Centre to ban both domestic and international flights at least till the end of May, and sought a 14-day mandatory quarantine for those who travelled or returned from foreign countries.
The CM also directed the Centre to spell out details regarding the minimum number of tests per million to be carried out in each state.
He noted that the tele-medicine facility should be adopted as an approach to contain the pandemic and only those patients with co-morbidity and severe symptoms should be recommended hospitalisation.
Karnataka recently crossed the 1 lakh tests-mark last week and the state is planning to increase the COVID-19 testing labs to 60 by the end of this month, from the current levels of 35. The state’s testing capacity as on Tuesday (May 12) is about 6,000 per day and is likely to increase to 10,000 a day by the end of May.
Captain Amarinder Singh seeks more authority for state govts
Similar to the demands made by Banerjee, Punjab Chef Minister Captain Amarinder Singh too said that in case of a graded exit from the lockdown based on which zones states are in (red, orange, and green), state administrations should be allowed to decide where the restrictions can be eased or reinforced.
He sought the extension of the lockdown, but with a carefully-planned strategy that would ensure economic revival of states and “secure people’s livelihood”.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too made requests similar to that of his counterparts to restart economic activities in the Union Territory, barring containment zones.
Thackeray requests resumption of local trains for essential services
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray asked for the resumption of local train services in the MMR region. “However, these local trains would be available only for providing essential services,” Thackeray said.
He also said states will implement the Centre’s guidelines if they are specific and concrete.
“I request that if need arises the state should be given central forces as police are under heavy pressure and their personnel are also getting infected,” Uddhav added.
Edappadi requests slew of measures to be implemented by Centre
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, during the meeting, asked the Centre to allow payment of wages to the MGNREGS workers by cash at their respective villages through panchayat clerks, which might help the poor during the lockdown.
“This will prevent over-crowding at banks,” he said.
Palaniswami also asked the Centre to offer transport subsidies to the Farmer Producer Organisations to help farmers transport their produce and sell it directly to consumers, and the release of a subsidy of ₹1,321 crore for custom milled rice to facilitate paddy procurement.
The chief minister also drew attention to the earlier release of funds under the NHM. “We have fully utilized the first instalment of ₹312 crore and we have submitted the Utilisation Certificate to enable the release of the second instalment. Kindly sanction my earlier request for release of ₹2,000 crore as a Special Grant for the state to enhance available medical equipment in the state, which was emphasized during our earlier video conference and letters,” he said.
He also requested the release of pending GST compensations, finance commission grants to urban and rural local bodies, and an ad hoc grant of ₹1,000 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund. He insisted that no cuts should be made for states from the Central Budget estimates for the fiscal 2020-2021.
He further sought the chief minister’s public relief fund to be made eligible to receive corporate social responsibility contribution.
With the industries being allowed to operate in the state, he asked the Centre to announce a relief package to ease the immediate burden on the power sector, which will help distressed distribution companies (DISCOMs).
He also demanded the enhancement of the annual credit plant target for lending to MSMEs, a credit restructuring package, fresh working capital assistance, and refinancing support.
(With inputs from Suresh Dharur, Samir Purkayastha, Prabhu Mallikarjunan, and Vinoth Kumar)