Amid near certainty that the lockdown will be extended by at least another two weeks to slow down the pace of transmission of the infection, the PMO announced that Modi will address the nation on the last day of the 21-day period of “stay at home” at 10 am.
The announcement came amid indications that the Centre is working on plans to step up aid to the poor and those rendered jobless by the pandemic and to take the first careful steps to put the economy back on the rails. Sources said the cache of proposals include a plan to expand the scope of provision of free foodgrains beyond PDS beneficiaries and irrespective of their location.
This can help people draw rations even in areas where their PDS cards are not registered. The proposed scheme is expected to cost between Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 25,000 crore. This will be in addition to the Rs 1.7 lakh crore package announced days after the lockdown started.
Ten states have already announced extension of lockdown till the month-end. States are likely to welcome easing of some restrictions that have brought virtually all public activities to a halt.
There have been calls for measures to assist businesses badly affected by the spread of the disease and the lockdown. While measures are on their way, the view in government is that these can await a fuller assessment of the Covid-19 fallout. The case for the poor and workers is more immediate and the government needs to look at the “last man in the queue”.
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Modi told CMs last week that while there was no getting away from the continuing enforcement of “stay-at-home” regimen, the second phase would mark a shift in approach to balance the objective of saving lives with the need to safeguard livelihoods and revive the economy.
Sources said proposals under consideration include encouraging employers in construction and other sectors to bring back migrants who were working for them before leaving for their villages. The switch from “jaan hai to jahan hai” (saving citizen’s lives comes first) to “jaan bhi jahan bhi” (the world also has to be saved along with lives) is likely to see tweaking of the lockdown to allow resumption of production activities, at least for essential goods and related industries, while ensuring that social distancing norms are not compromised.
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The objective seems to be to help resumption of production and manufacturing of essential items on a limited basis, with a focus on assisting small and medium businesses that do not have many employees but add up to a large number cumulatively. Production units for essential items, including ancillary units such as flour mills, small units engaged in manufacturing packaging of essential items, may restart operations but with largely locally procured labour.