A key central department has recommended that certain industries and services should be allowed to resume limited activity with reasonable safeguards, as the Centre mulls easing some restrictions during the likely extended coronavirus lockdown beyond April 14.
The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) in a series of recommendations to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said these new activities in wide ranging spheres are essential in any lockdown exit plan to improve the country’s economic activity and provide liquidity in the hands of the people.
These new activities are essential to improve the economic activity and provide liquidity in the hands of the people, the DPIIT said in its letter to Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla,
“It is felt that certain more activities with reasonable safeguards should be allowed once a final decision regarding extension and nature of lockdown is taken by the central government,” the letter said, making a strong push for these activities in addition to those already allowed under various notifications of the MHA.
The exit plan from the lockdown is recommended after getting suggestions from a detailed interaction with various states and industry bodies, the letter said.
The plan also emphasises on social distancing, sanitisation and spacing.
There was no reaction from the home ministry on Sunday to DPIIT’s letter.
The letter also noted that other ministries like the Agriculture ministry may be approaching the MHA separately for allowing activities like harvesting etc. that they considered crucial.
Further, it has stated that housing and construction sectors need to be allowed if the labourers stay at the sites with all facilities and safeguards. Contractors shall ensure safety, sanitation and distancing norms.
It suggested that all transport vehicles of all sizes, whether inter-State, intra-State or intra-city, need to be allowed, whether empty or full, by all enforcement agencies without asking any question.
The department has stated that all street vendors like fruit and vegetable sellers should be allowed by the states in order to improve doorstep delivery and also to provide much needed liquidity to this population.
The 21-day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in place from March 25 in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19 and is scheduled to end on Tuesday.
Four states – Telangana, Maharashtra, Punjab and Odisha – have already extended the coronavirus lockdown in their respective territories till April 30.
A broad consensus has emerged that the national lockdown should be extended by at least two weeks after a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and state chief ministers on Saturday.
Several chief ministers at the same time have pushed for resumption of some economic activities like in the farming sector in regions with no COVID-19 cases.
The Centre in consultation with states is moving to restart economic activities in a graded manner in what is seen as a nuanced change in strategy from saving lives a month ago to saving lives as well as livelihoods now in the fight against the pandemic.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases crossed 9,000 on Sunday with nearly 1,000 infections reported in the last 24 hours. On Saturday, there was a record increase of over 1,000 cases. The deaths also crossed 300, according to a latest PTI tally from the states.
The Centre has also sought inputs related to production, labour and logistics from clusters in five key sectors to ascertain expected output if required, official sources said.
The five sectors are textiles, chemicals, electronics, steel and pharmaceutical, the sources said.
In its letter with an annexure, the DPIIT has suggested that industries which can be allowed to operate must ensure single entry points for workers, sufficient space for ensuring social distancing, use of separate transport for ferrying workers or make stay arrangements in factory premises, high quality regular sanitization of the premises.
The state and district authorities, while allowing these new activities, should ensure strict observance of these conditions, it said.
It has also recommended free movement of vehicles and manpower in certain sectors.
Big companies with proper sanitation and distancing norms in place in sectors such as textiles, automobiles and electronic manufacturing – 20 per cent to 25 per cent capacity in single shift may be considered to start with, according to the letter.
Besides those firms or MSMEs with export commitments need to be allowed to operate with minimal manpower and necessary movement of material as a new entity.
For the rubber sector, it has suggested that certain rubber items may be given priority for starting manufacturing, while keeping in mind the safety, sanitation and distancing norms. It can include pressure cooker gaskets, LPG hoses, adhesives, hospital rubber sheets, medical – silicon, pharma stoppers, boots, catheters, anesthesia bags, valves, and dental supplies.
Lastly, the department has recommended that timber, plywood and wood based industry provides packaging material to pharma companies, FMCG and other companies producing essential commodities should also be allowed by the state authorities.
States, meanwhile, are likely to designate districts, towns and cities as red, orange and green zones depending upon the number of COVID-19 case as part of efforts to allow differentiated restoration of normalcy with conditions like uses of masks and social distancing in public.
Union minister Nitin Gadkari said talks are underway with state governments to re-start highway construction projects where migrant labourers can be gainfully employed.
In a video-conference with PTI, the road transport, highways and MSME minister said efforts are on for facilitating a safe return of migrant labourers, an estimated 20 lakh of whom are in shelters pan-India.
“I had a meeting with road sector officials. Work can be re-started at projects with condition that adequate measures are taken for safeguard against coronavirus. We have to follow guidelines. At some places collectors have given permission, some not. We are doing a follow up along with the chief secretaries of the states,” the minister said.
The Karnataka government said it is studying in-depth the consequences of possible relaxation of lockdown norms after April 14 and plans to come out with a clear roadmap in a day or two, according to Medical Education Minister Sudhakar K.
Kerala, which was the first state in the country to report a coronavirus infection in late January, has prepared a time table for coming out of the lockdown and there would be district-specific strategies to tackle the situation while the number of cases are on the decline.
Ramping up efforts to “stamp out” coronavirus cases in the state, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac told PTI that an exit strategy is being prepared and restrictions are being relaxed in certain segments, including agriculture.