The Centre on Saturday said it was considering requests made in consensus by state governments to extend by two weeks the nationwide lockdown to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. States made the request during a video-conference held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with all chief ministers to discuss the next steps to deal with the pandemic.
While the Centre maintained that it was “considering” the request, at least four chief ministers – those of Delhi, West Bengal, Karnataka and Puducherry – indicated that Modi had already agreed to it during the meeting. The nationwide lockdown in place since March 25 is due to end on April 14.
According to an official statement, Modi said during the meeting that the government’s motto had changed from “jaan hai to jahaan hai [prioritising health over prosperity]” to “jaan bhi jahaan bhi [health along with prosperity]”. He said the combined effort of the Centre and the states had helped reduce the impact of Covid-19 but constant vigilance was still paramount.
Modi told the chief ministers that the next three to four weeks would be critical in determining the impact of the steps taken so far. Meanwhile, apart from requesting a lockdown extension, the chief ministers also sought financial assistance from the Centre.
The prime minister assured the states of adequate supplies of essential medicines and said the Centre was taking steps to ensure availability of protective gear and critical equipment for front-line workers. He condemned attacks on health staff and misbehaviour towards students from the North East and Kashmir in parts of the country.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan also attended the meeting along with top bureaucrats.
CMs’ remarks after the meeting
Though the Centre did not make any such statement, Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi claimed that the prime minister has decided to extend the lockdown. “PM has taken correct decision to extend lockdown,” Kejriwal wrote on Twitter. “Today, India’s position is better than many developed countries because we started lockdown early. If it is stopped now, all gains would be lost. To consolidate, it is important to extend it.”
Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy said that Modi had agreed to extend the lockdown, PTI reported. His Karnataka counterpart, BS Yediyurappa, said that at the meeting, the prime minister said that the extension of the lockdown was inevitable, and that guidelines for the next two weeks will be issued in a day or two.
Yediyurappa even claimed that the lockdown in the next two weeks will be different from the one already in place. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Modi had spoken about extending the lockdown till April 30.
Before official details emerged from the Centre, some chief ministers publicly confirmed that they had requested for an extension to the lockdown. Kejriwal told Modi that the decision to continue the lockdown should be taken on a national level, and that the fight will not be effective if states make their own decisions. “If the lockdown is eased, all kinds of transport, either rail or road, should not be allowed,” the Delhi chief minister said.
Amarinder Singh of Punjab told the prime minister that though the restrictions were causing a lot of trouble to the people, India cannot afford to take any chances. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said he told Modi that extending the lockdown was necessary to save lives. “Today we are not in favour of removal of lockdown,” he said, according to PTI. “The lives of people are more important and to save them, the lockdown is necessary.”
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel also sought a continuation of restrictions on inter-state movement, but urged Modi to allow states to carry out economic activities within their borders.
Earlier, reports said that Modi had assured the chief ministers of his support and told them that their suggestions were welcome. “I am available 24x7,” Modi said, according to Hindustan Times. “Any chief minister can speak to me and give suggestions anytime. We should stand together shoulder-to-shoulder.”
Until Saturday morning, Odisha and Punjab had already extended their lockdowns to control Covid-19 till the end of the month. Hours after the video-conference, Maharashtra also announced a similar decision. In recent days, states have tightened restrictions – sealing off infection hotspots and making protective masks compulsory – to slow down the infection.
The video-conference was the prime minister’s third such meeting with the chief ministers. In a meeting earlier this month, Modi had said that the Centre and states must have a “common exit strategy” for staggered re-entry of population after the three-week nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus.
The number of coronavirus cases in India has risen to 7,447 and 239 people have died, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. With over 1,500 cases and 110 deaths, Maharashtra is the worst-affected state. Tamil Nadu has 911 cases of the coronavirus, while Delhi has 903.