Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation at 10am on Tuesday, the last day of the three-week lockdown for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) , amid expectations he will extend the emergency protocol until at least the end of April and move, in a limited way, to restart the economy by selectively easing curbs on industry.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced Modi’s address in a post on the microblogging site Twitter on Monday. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation at 10am on 14th April 2020,” the PMO tweeted on a day the number of Covid-19 infections rose by 1,253 to 10,444 cases, and deaths increased 29 to 355.
It will be the PM’s third televised address to the nation in less than a month. On March 19, Modi said he would seek the “coming few weeks” of Indian citizens, asked them to stay determined and patient in the fight against the global pandemic, senior citizens to remain indoors and called for a “people’s curfew” on March 22 to demonstrate their unity and resolve.
On March 24 came the announcement of a nationwide, three-week lockdown — the world’s biggest — that has halted commercial flights and train journeys,taken public transport off the streets, closed schools and colleges and shut industrial production, as the government tried to break the chain of infections.
A day ahead of the address, Modi held in-depth talks with the principal scientific adviser Prof K VijayRaghavan apart from holding his regular meetings with principal secretary PK Mishra and cabinet secretary RK Gauba. The talks with VijayRaghavan focussed on how the Aarogya app is contributing to tracking the spread of Covid-19, HT has learnt.
Shops that sell food, groceries, fruits and vegetables and dairy products, pharmacists, banks and automated teller machines, and petrol pumps have been exempted from the lockdown. Establishments that have been kept out of the purview of the lockdown also include utilities, sanitation, municipal bodies,the police, home guards and civil defence, hospitals, veterinary clinics and pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution units.
A majority of India’s states have backed an extension of the lockdown so as not to fritter away the benefits that may have accrued from the strict social distancing norms put in place to keep the highly infectious virus at bay, but some sought an easing of the lockdown in areas outside the so-called red zones that include Covid-19 hot spots and containment zones.
At least seven states — Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana — have already announced an extension of the lockdown until April 30.
Some ministries have suggested reopening production units and restarting work in the agricultural sector provided all the mandatory guidelines for sanitation and social distancing are followed.
Prime Minister Modi indicated his thinking at the meeting by video conference with state chief ministers.
“While announcing the lockdown, I had said ‘jaan hai to jahan hai’ (health is wealth)… Most people in the country understood it and discharged their responsibilities by remaining indoors. And now it is imperative to focus on both aspects, ‘Jaan bhi, jahan bhi’ ((lives as well as livelihoods), for India’s bright future, and prosperous and healthy India,” Modi said.
On Monday, members of the Union council of ministers returned to work at their offices for the first time since the lockdown began. The government, in an order last week, also asked all officers of the joint secretary level and above to be present in the ministries along with one-third of the essential staff from Monday.
The Union ministry of home affairs (MHA), which has been issuing guidelines to be followed by all sectors, reaffirmed that all offices except those in the defence, central armed police forces, essential services such as power and postal services will remain closed.
The ministry also directed all States and Union territories to implement lockdown guidelines in letter and spirit and also to ensure smooth movement of inter and intra-state cargo, trucks, workers and functioning of warehouse and cold storages, Punya Salila Srivastava, joint secretary in the MHA ,said on Monday.
“Vehicles carrying essential and non-essential items should be permitted to avoid the shortage of commodities,” Srivastava told reporters.
“Warehouses of companies should also be allowed to operate. Railways, airports, seaports, and customs authorities have already been authorised to issue passes for their staff and contractual labour,” she added.
The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) recommended to the home ministry that certain identified industries and services be allowed to resume limited activity with “reasonable safeguards” to restart economic activity and put money in the hands of people.
It said industries engaged in manufacturing telecom equipment and components including optical fibre cable; compressor and condenser units; steel and ferrous alloy mills; spinning and ginning mills, power looms; defence; cement plants; pulp and paper units; fertiliser plants; paints; plastic; automotive units; gems and jewellery; and all units in special economic zones (SEZs) and export oriented units (EOUs) be allowed to open limited operations.
The Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) welcomed the suggestion. “Opening of all export industries, large as well as MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) including SEZs and EOUs , will help the exporters execute whatever little orders remain with them after huge cancellations in the last two months,” FIEO president Sharad Kumar Saraf said in a statement. It will also send a signal to overseas buyers that the situation in India is returning to normal, and encourage them to place more orders, he said.
The Federation of Retailer Association of India (FRAI) urged the government to let small shops open immediately, as the daily cash flow of small retailers has stopped completely since the lockdown came into force.
Covid-19 is expected to take a heavy toll on Asia’s third largest economy, which was already in the midst of a slowdown when the virus hit. The World Bank said on Sunday that India’s economy is expected to grow 1.5% to 2.8% in 2020-21 in a baseline scenario, the slowest pace since India in 1991 embarked on a path of reform that reversed four decades of semi-socialist insulation.
On Monday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to Prime Minister in which she emphasised the humanitarian aspect of the pandemic ,demanding the provision of 10kg of foodgrains free for six months to the poor who don’t hold ration cards.
“The current crisis has pushed many relatively food secure families into food insecurity and poverty,” she wrote in the letter. “In our fight against the pandemic we must ensure that no one faces hunger.”