New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday called for a “balanced strategy” to tackle the COVID-19 crisis as he sought inputs from states on the way forward in fighting the pandemic, even as the nationwide tally crossed the 70,000 mark. The death toll also crossed 2,200 with more people succumbing to COVID-19, including in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.
The interaction was also attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh, home minister Amit Shah, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and health minister Harsh Vardhan among others. This was the fifth such meeting between PM Modi and state chief ministers since the outbreak emerged.
Several chief ministers spoke of the road that should be taken after the third lockdown is lifted and asked for more autonomy in making decisions.
“States face different challenges and therefore should be given the freedom to make reasonable changes to the guidelines relating to the lockdown,” said Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
PM Modi flagged that problems have increased wherever social distancing norms were not followed or there has been laxity in implementation of the lockdown guidelines. He also said the biggest challenge will be to ensure that the infection does not spread to villages, sources said.
The new cases detected in the past few days include migrant workers who have returned to their native places from big urban clusters, many after being rendered jobless and homeless, as also some airlifted from abroad under a massive evacuation plan undertaken by the government for Indians and expatriates stranded in various countries.
Some chief ministers also sought measures to expand the testing infrastructure, while many of them also demanded fiscal support for the states due to the pandemic having hit hard various revenue-generating economic activities.
Sources said Modi told the chief ministers that a “balanced strategy will have to be adopted for the road ahead”, as he sought their suggestions on the way forward.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is said to have favoured allowing all economic activities, barring in the identified containment zones.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the Centre wanted a strict lockdown enforcement on one hand, but was resuming train services on the other.
“When Government of India has opened almost everything including opening of land borders, starting trains and opening airports, then what is the point in continuing with further lockdown,” West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee asked PM Modi during the virtual PM-CMs meet.
“We are together in this crisis, however, somehow West Bengal has been targeted by central government to get political mileage. Besides central government instructions and advisories, central teams have been deputed for supervision and monitoring, which had taken away much of the time of senior officers from focusing on fight against COVID-19,” she said.
Chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Telangana opposed resumption of passenger train services, which are scheduled to begin on Tuesday with select special trains for taking the stranded migrant workers to their native places.
The home ministry said only asymptomatic people with confirmed tickets will be allowed to travel in 15 trains to be operational from Tuesday. Online bookings began for these trains on Monday evening, after some delay due to a technical glitch, and some routes got fully booked within ten minutes.
The railways have been running ‘migrant special’ trains for ferrying migrant workers since May 1, but this will be the first time in nearly 50 days that the general public can also undertake train journeys even though flight and inter-state bus services remain suspended as of now till May 17, when the third phase of the lockdown is scheduled to end.
The first phase of the nationwide lockdown began on March 25, which was supposed to be of 21 days, but it got extended later till May 3 and then further till May 17 with some relaxations.
Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray asked Modi to show “specific and concrete direction” on the ongoing lockdown and said the states would implement the same. He also requested the prime minister to start local trains in Mumbai for essential services staff working in the city. Mumbai’s coronavirus tally has reached 14,355 with 791 new cases detected on Monday, while its death toll is 528 now with 20 more fatalities. At least 57 new cases were reported from the city’s Dharavi slums.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh favoured extending the lockdown in view of the rising number of cases, but with a carefully crafted exit strategy backed by economic empowerment of states to save lives and secure livelihood.
Some chief ministers also suggested that the states should be allowed to decide declaring red, orange or green zones after taking into account the ground realities.
(With inputs from PTI)