Allow More Activities With “Reasonable Safeguards”, Key Ministry Suggests

India’s economy is set to take a severe hit amid the lockdown, say experts

New Delhi:

The commerce and industries ministry has suggested that more industrial activities should be allowed during the extended coronavirus lockdown with reasonable safeguards. Manufacturing should be allowed partially in autos, textiles, defence, electronics and other sectors, the ministry has recommended in a letter addressed to the home ministry.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to announce an extension of the 21-day lockdown till April 30 after it ends on Tuesday, but with partial resumption of sectors to restart economic activity.

“…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. These new activities are essential to improve the economic activity and provide liquidity in the hands of people,” Commerce Secretary Guruprasad Mohapatra writes in the letter.

“I am sure other ministries like agriculture are approaching the home ministry separately for allowing activities like harvesting etc that they consider crucial.”

The recommendations are based on the ministry’s interaction with various states and industry bodies, the letter said, stressing on social distancing, sanitisation and spacing. The ministry recommends reduced shifts with fewer staff to ensure social distancing.

India’s economy, which was already growing at its slowest pace in six years before the onset of the coronavirus, is set to take a severe hit amid the lockdown, say economists, who warn that unemployment could rise to record levels.

Big industries like textiles and automobiles can be allowed with single shifts, the ministry writes. MSMEs or Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises with export commitments should be allowed to operate with minimal manpower, it says.

The commerce ministry suggests that industries manufacturing telecom equipment, steel mills, cement, paper, food and beverages, should also reopen with minimum manpower and virus safeguards. Housing and construction, street vendors and repair services for home appliances and mobile phones should also be allowed, it says.

After a meeting on Saturday with state Chief Ministers, who mostly recommended an extended lockdown but with economic activities like farming, PM Modi reportedly asked ministries to come up with plans to open up some crucial industries.

Jaan bhi, Jahaan bhi (lives and livelihoods both),” the Prime Minister had said at the meeting, a shift from his earlier statement — “Jaan hai toh jahaan hai (lives come first)” – indicating that the government plans to change its lockdown strategy. As a start, many ministers resumed work from office this morning.

India has 9,152 coronavirus cases, including 308 deaths.

Four states, Telangana, Maharashtra, Punjab and Odisha, have already extended the coronavirus lockdown till April 30.

Union minister Nitin Gadkari said talks are underway with states to restart highway construction projects where migrant labourers – thousands have lost their jobs because of the lockdown — can be employed. “Work can be re-started at projects with condition that adequate measures are taken for safeguard against coronavirus. 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 told Press Trust of India.

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