In what could be a testing of waters for the eventual reopening of schools, the central government has allowed states and Union Territories to permit 50% of teaching and non-teaching staff in schools. The Unlock 4.0 guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Saturday said this could be for the purpose of online teaching/tele-counselling and related work after September 21.
Schools, colleges and educational institutions will continue to remain closed till September 30.
The guidelines specify that schools in containment zones will not be permitted to call staff and Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) will be issued by the Ministry of Health in this regard.
Students of classes 9 to 12 have also been permitted to visit school for guidance if it is located outside the containment zones.
Students in rural areas have complained about lack of internet connectivity affecting their studies — this relaxation could help them.
Skill or entrepreneurship training will also be permitted in National Skill Training Institutes, Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), short term training centres registered with National Skill Development Corporation or State Skill Development Missions or other central or state ministries. The National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development (NIESBUD), Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) and their training providers will also be permitted.
Higher Education Institutions only for research scholars (Ph.D) and postgraduate students of technical and professional programmes requiring laboratory/experimental work will also be permitted by the Department of Higher Education (DHE) in consultation with the MHA, based on the assessment of the situation, and keeping in view incidence of coronavirus in the respective states.
The MHA has allowed metro services to resume in a graded manner from September 7 and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development will issue the SOP in this regard.
The MHA has also restricted states from imposing local lockdowns outside containment zones without consulting the Centre. Traders and businesspersons have complained against weekend lockdowns, like the one in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and arbitrary lockdowns like the one in West Bengal. The Centre is in favour of allowing as much economic activity as possible and this is the first set of guidelines where the power to impose restrictions in the interest of public health has been taken away from local administration.
While open-air theatres have been permitted, cinema halls will continue to remain shut. This decision was taken even though the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in the last lockdown had proposed allowing cinemas with 25% capacity.
Political/religious and other congregations have also been permitted for up to 100 people, with the mandatory wearing of face masks. However, for weddings and funerals, the number of people permitted continues to be 50 and 20, respectively. With electoral activities picking up in states like Bihar, such a congregation-related relaxation assumes significance.