The Centre told states on Sunday to ensure strict adherence of containment zone guidelines and clear demarcation of the areas with coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases, adding that they should not let any relaxation of the national lockdown lead to chaos, a development that came a day ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meet with chief ministers.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced that Modi will hold the fifth video-conference on tackling the Covid-19 outbreak with the chief ministers at 3pm on Monday. At the previous meets, the Prime Minister has taken suggestions from the CMs on the contours and extension of the national lockdown, put in place to contain the infections. Officials have told HT that at Monday’s meet, the PM is likely to discuss further increase in economic activity in the country while also tackling the infections in the containment zones.
Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba met state chief secretaries on Sunday and advised them to ensure that “green zones” – areas that are largely Covid-19-free – remain insulated from the spread of the pathogen, according to an official who was present during the interaction and spoke on condition of anonymity. The states were also asked to allow unhindered movement of health care workers, the official added.
An official statement on the meeting also said that many chief secretaries said that “while protection is required from Covid-19, the economic activities also need to be stepped up in a calibrated manner”. The deliberations came a day after Gauba held two back-to-back meetings to identify possible areas that can be opened up after May 17.
The country has been under a complete lockdown since March 25, a move aimed at breaking the chain of infections. The number of infections, which have affected more than four million people across the world, rose to 67,085in India on Sunday. Experts say that a recent relaxation in the lockdown to boost economic activity may lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases.
While restrictions were considerably relaxed on May 4 to boost a sluggish economy, the government is expected to further ease the curbs after May 17, when the lockdown is scheduled to end.
The government has begun internal discussions on possible additional relaxations and unlike the previous meet between the PM and the chief ministers, Monday’s video conference will have all CMs speaking on the issue, according to a person aware of the matter. Due to the paucity of time, the previous deliberations had limited numbers of CMs sharing their views.
On Sunday, Gauba told the chief secretaries that containment areas have to be well-demarcated to avoid confusion among the public as well as police or health officials and “stringent implementation” of rules has to be ensured, the official quoted above said.
The Centre has regularly received reports about loosely earmarked containment zones leading to non-adherence of health safety norms and free movement of people, the official added.
While the Centre is worried about a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases, the states have been asked to keep an eye on the green zones to ensure these areas remain unaffected.
The cabinet secretary also cited reports about the frequent harassment of medical workers and underlined that their movement should be unhindered and they must not face any difficulty due to the restrictions, another official said.
As the Centre seeks states’ inputs for the next course of action, senior Congress strategist Jairam Ramesh argued that the Union government must give the states complete freedom to design their own action plans. “It is ridiculous that the Centre is making all plans and asking states to follow it. It should be the other way round. The battle against Covid needs to be de-centralised. States should be free to make their own plans and decide which areas are vulnerable. This green, red and orange zone concept is not working,” Ramesh said.
At Sunday’s meet, state officials shared data to show how they were tackling the Covid-19 outbreak. Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Tripura flagged concerns over a number of positive cases found in Bangladesh’s districts adjacent to the state. The Tripura chief secretary pointed out that the international border was porous and the Centre must ensure that Bangladesh citizens can’t enter Tripura, the second official said.
The Assam chief secretary underlined that while a large number of migrant workers were returning to the state in special trains, it needed to be given advance notice and sufficient time to set up quarantine facilities for such a large number of people. He was assured that the state would be informed about in-bound train schedules in advance.
West Bengal home secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay said that the state has reconciled its Covid-19 data with the Centre’s after the administration was accused of under-reporting of cases. He read out a written demand that for the next phase, the government should adopt a more decentralised approach and a zone-specific plan should be allowed, the official said.