Narendra Modi is set to announce an extension of the coronavirus lockdown in his morning address to the nation while a relaxation of curbs is likely to start rolling out from the rural heartland, said people with knowledge of the matter.
Farming will be central to this process of easing – rabi harvesting and procurement operations along with allied industry segments will be allowed to operate with adequate safeguards, said the people cited above. The rabi season contributes nearly 50% to foodgrain production.
“Harvesting and procurement has to start… that is priority,” said one of them. “Other activities and sectors that support these would also have to be opened up with safety precautions.” For example, procurement may require construction and that may require cement, which may also have to be opened up.
Although the health and home ministries favour total containment, other ministries have backed a selective opening up in view of the broader consequences of a stalled economy.
The Centre is compiling inputs from ministries and states on graded relaxations in the second phase of the lockdown starting April 15. The home ministry will be issuing revised guidelines to all states under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The current three-week lockdown is due to end April 14.
‘Supply Chains Interlinked’
The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, commerce, agriculture, micro, small and medium enterprises, road transport, food processing and other ministries have communicated with the home ministry on the process of opening up, said an official. Detailed guidelines will be issued based on discussions by the finance ministry with other ministries and feedback from industry.
Easing some aspects of the lockdown has become imperative to ensure supply of essentials as supply chains are interlinked, said another official.
“Distribution channels are closely interconnected – distributor, dealer and retailer,” he said. “Besides, there are inter-linkages in manufacturing as well.” For instance, an oil manufacturing unit needs to be supported by a packaging unit, a printing unit and these in turn need adequate supply of inputs to keep the chain going, he said.
Non-BJP-ruled states such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu issued orders on Monday under the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, to extend the lockdown until the end of April. Other opposition-ruled states such as West Bengal, Punjab, Odisha, Telangana and Delhi have also announced they will be extending the lockdown. The BJP-ruled states will take their cue from the Prime Minister’s address. However, Uttar Pradesh said on Monday that construction activity on government projects such as roads and expressways would begin from April 15 with workers practising social distancing. This may feature in the home ministry’s revised guidelines for the next phase of the lockdown.
Niti Aayog has also given a detailed plan on easing the lockdown.
“Extension of complete closure would have severe consequences for the economy, so partial opening up is the only option,” said an official.
The order will specify guidelines on health and the movement of persons that states will need to follow, said one of the persons. State governments will need to ensure that adequate safety protocols are followed on the ground.
“Wide consultations are going on with the primary factor of labour being considered,” said an official. “States have to find out how much labour is migrant and how many are stationed at their homes to be able to draft an exit strategy.”
Industries need to ensure proper ventilation and sanitisation of workers while entering and exiting the factory.
“The textile industry ranges from handloom to sophisticated factory floors,” said the official. “In case of handlooms, wherein people don’t have to work close to each other and usually operate from home but have to go to the markets to sell their products, these are not problem areas but the entire value chain is linked. We can’t have a strategy for garments but not for yarn.”
Industry Plan For Farm Produce
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has drawn up a comprehensive guidance document on safety measures during postharvest and mandi operations to ensure smooth supply of farm produce.
CII said the current crisis has impacted harvesting operations for rabi crops such as wheat, mustard, pulses, oilseeds, tomato and mango. Arrivals and prices in mandis have been impacted and every effort needs to be made for a resilient farm sector. The rabi season is critical for foodgrain, oilseeds and pulses security.
“The agri and food supply chains are vulnerable to massive disruptions which can further impact availability and prices, hence proactive measures for safety and health of farmers and workers are required at both the farm as well as mandi level,” said CII director general Chandrajit Banerjee. “While the country is in lockdown mode, it is essential that harvesting and post-harvest activities remain functional so that farmers do not suffer and crops are not lost.”
The health ministry said in the daily briefing on Monday that the importance of “saving lives and livelihoods” was reflected in the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana with 300 million people getting INR 28,526 crore in financial assistance.