Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare the coronavirus pandemic a natural calamity so that the State Disaster Response Fund can be used to provide benefits to those affected, reported The Indian Express.

On Tuesday, while announcing new curbs in the state, the Maharashtra chief minister had noted that earthquakes, heavy rainfall and floods were defined as natural calamities and those affected got individual benefits.

“We all have accepted this [pandemic] as a natural calamity,” he had said. “So, we are requesting the PM to give individual benefits that are given in natural calamities to the people whose livelihood has been impacted by the pandemic.”

Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte, who confirmed that Thackeray wrote to Modi on Wednesday, said that although the Covid-19 pandemic was a calamity, it is yet to be defined as a natural calamity. “So, individual benefits cannot be given as per the existing system,” he said, adding that declaring the pandemic a natural calamity is a policy decision under the Centre’s purview.

An official said that the State Disaster Response Fund, which was constituted under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, is presently being used for building infrastructure such as Covid-19 centres and also for purchasing oxygen and medicines.

“But it cannot be used to provide individual benefits,” the official told The Indian Express. “If the Centre treats the pandemic as a natural calamity and finalises a methodology to decide on the category of affected people, then the state can give individual benefits to people.”

The official said that the affected people can be given Rs 100 per day, under the National Food Security Act, during the curbs in the state. “Who have been affected can be decided based on the restrictions imposed from time to time since April 5,” the official said. “At present, it is difficult to calculate an estimated amount required for this purpose.” The official added that these benefits would be in addition to the relief package announced by the state on Tuesday.

Officials said that the State Disaster Response Fund is the primary fund available with state governments for dealing with notified disasters. The Centre contributes 75% towards the State Disaster Response Fund allocation and Maharashtra provides the remaining 25%. The official said that the disaster fund has around Rs 4,200 crore now.

On Tuesday, Thackeray had said that he was aware of the difficulties that the poor would face because of the restrictions and announced a relief package.

“Seven crore beneficiaries under the food security scheme will get 3 kg wheat and 2 kg rice per person for free for one month,” the chief minister had said. “The Shiv Bhojan thali will be provided for free. Around 35 lakh beneficiaries in a total of five welfare schemes will get Rs 1,000 per person per month for the next two months.”

The curbs came into effect on Wednesday and will remain in place for 15 days. There will be a ban on gatherings of more than four people across the state and only essential services will be allowed to operate. Restaurants can only offer takeaways and home delivery.

On Wednesday, Maharashtra registered 58,952 new Covid-19 cases, pushing the tally in the state to 35,78,160, since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. With 278 new deaths, the toll climbed to 58,804.

After reporting less than 10,000 cases per day earlier this year, India has recorded more than 1.5 lakh daily cases for the past five days. According to the health ministry’s data on Thursday, India recorded more than 2 lakh cases in the preceding 24 hours – a record high since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. The country now has 1.4 crore cases and 1,73,123 deaths.