Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday held his fifth meeting with chief ministers since the nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25 to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown is scheduled to end on May 17.
The six-hour meeting began via videoconferencing at 3 pm, and focussed on a strategy for a phased exit from the nationwide lockdown and revival of the economy. Here is what the chief ministers of various states told the prime minister:
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the first to speak at the meeting, assailed the Centre, accusing it of playing politics amid the pandemic. She alleged that the Centre was playing favourites among states “according to a script”.
“Nobody ever asks our opinion,” she said. This is not the time to do politics, do not bulldoze the federal structure.”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told Modi that economic activities should be allowed to resume in the national capital, except in containment zones, PTI reported. Kejriwal also asked Modi to release funds from the Finance Commission for the state, alleging that they had not been provided for 20 years, the Hindustan Times reported.
Delhi, which has the fourth highest number of cases among states, had restarted some economic activity earlier this month.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he favoured the extension of the nationwide lockdown. However, he also called for a carefully crafted exit strategy. Singh said the decision on designating areas as red, green and orange zones should be left to the states. Currently, this decision is taken by the Centre, based on the number of cases in the area.
The chief minister said micro, small and medium enterprises should be allowed to run in red zones. He also demanded an urgent financial assistance to states to meet at least 33% of their liabilities, along with revenue grants for three months.
Singh told Modi that Punjab was losing Rs 3,000 crore per month in revenue. He reiterated his demand for an immediate release of Punjab’s Goods and Services Tax arrears of Rs 4,365 crore.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray asked Modi to “show specific and concrete direction” on the lockdown, PTI reported. Thackeray also requested the prime minister to start local trains in Mumbai to allow staff providing essential services to travel to work. On March 22, the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government had shut down the local train network, which carries millions of passengers every day.
Thackeray also urged Modi to deploy central police personnel in states, to give rest to the state police force. “We have to ensure that police are given the required time for rest,” he said. The chief minister pitched for only a partial lifting of the lockdown, through regulation.
Maharashtra has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases. As of Monday evening, the state had recorded 22,171 cases, including 832 deaths. Mumbai alone accounts for 13,564 infections as of Monday evening, according to Mumbai Mirror.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami requested Modi not to restart train and air services in his state till May 31, given the high and rising number of cases. “We know from media that regular train service to Chennai [from Delhi] and from Chennai will commence from May 12,” Palaniswami said according to a press release, PTI reported. “As the positive cases in Chennai are showing an increasing trend, don’t permit train services up to 31.5.2020, in my state. I request you not to begin regular air services till 31.5.2020.”
The Railways on Sunday announced limited resumption of services. Fifteen train pairs will be run on select routes from Monday, with trains either terminating or starting at New Delhi.
Palaniswami also told the prime minister that the death rate from the coronavirus is only 0.67% in the state so far. Tamil Nadu had till Monday morning recorded 7,247 cases of Covid-19, but only 47 deaths.
Like the Punjab chief minister, Palaniswami also sought that the Centre release Tamil Nadu’s GST revenue immediately.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao also urged Modi not to resume passenger train services, arguing that the consequent moment of people could make Covid-19 testing and quarantine difficult, PTI reported. “Nobody knows who is going from where to where,” Rao said, according to a press release. “It is not possible to conduct tests on everyone. It is also difficult to put all those who travelled by trains under quarantine. Hence, passenger trains should not be allowed to ply.”
However, Rao advocated the return of migrant workers to their hometowns. The Centre has introduced over 300 “Shramik Special” trains to carry these labourers home on a daily basis.
“Efforts are underway to prepare a coronavirus vaccine, and Hyderabad-based companies are working towards a vaccine which is likely to become a reality in July-August,” Rao informed the meeting.
“North East will work together and will fast track its economic activities,” Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb told Modi. Deb suggested that the North East corridor be connected by rail from Bangladesh, so that economic activities could be accelerated.
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa requested that the classification of areas into red, orange and green zones be abolished, India Today reported. Yediyurappa said that only containment zones should be identified and strictly cordoned off.
The chief minister also pitched for resumption of commercial activities in non-containment zones. However, Yediyurappa said rail and air services should be shut till May 31. Interestingly, Yediyurappa said the Centre should tell each state how many Covid-19 tests it needs to conduct.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said that states should be consulted before railway and air services are permitted into their borders. He added that state governments should get the right to make decisions on handling economic activities.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YSR Jagan Mohan Reddy said that the stigma associated with coronavirus patients needs to be combated. He also called for a quick return to normalcy.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said rail and air traffic should be allowed but under very strict supervision. He also sought permission to restart metro services and state transport buses. Vijayan sought a package for the MSME sector.
Assam voted for continuation of the lockdown till the end of the month. “We have to be careful in opening interstate movement and it should be kept to the minimum,” Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said. He also asked for a gap of one week between every train movement to Assam.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath also said that the shutdown should be extended, “in the interest of all states”.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also demanded an extension of the lockdown. He said if the lockdown is lifted, there will be huge influx of people into the state, thus spreading the infection.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that examinations and entrance tests for professional examinations should be restarted. He also pitched for allowing public transport, and said states should be allowed to determine the mechanism for relaxation of lockdown in red, orange and green zones.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik sought regulation of railway movements in consultation with states. He added that central schemes should be modified for their execution at the panchayat level, as the coronavirus outbreak is likely to last for a long time.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said the lockdown should be lifted only gradually, and that economic activities should be allowed to resume only with strict protocols in place.