A day before a host of relaxations to boost economic activities kick in amid the nationwide lockdown, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said more relief measures are bound to come if India continues to manage the coronavirus crisis well, asserting that “you cannot (have) lockdown permanently”.
The Information and Broadcasting Minister also called for fully observing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s request to people to stay wherever they are, amid a row over the UP government’s decision to send buses to Kota in Rajasthan to bring back students stuck there.
“I will not go into any particular incident but let me make it clear that the Prime Minister has spoken about people facing hardship when they are away from home. He has advised them to stay wherever they are. That is the real point,” he said.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has objected to the development, saying it was against the spirit of lockdown, and some opposition leaders have questioned as to why the central government is not making provisions for stranded migrant labourers to return to their homes.
“Our policy is stay wherever you are and help each other,” Javadekar said, adding that PM Modi’s appeal in this regard should be observed 100 per cent.
Lockdown at the right time
A member of the group of ministers to oversee the measures to combat the pandemic, he said unlike leaders in some other countries, who are “confused” between the choices of shutdown and letting economic activities pick up, PM Modi is “not in two minds” about the way forward and knows what needed to be done and when.
“He gave the call of lockdown at the right time and is now partially allowing economic activity while the lockdown continues. With such a (huge) population we have managed well; if this continues, we will get more relief,” he said.
While the relaxations starting from April 20 are primarily aimed at boosting the rural economy, Javadekar expressed confidence that economic activities will start in cities as well “sooner rather than later”.
“The lockdown has been very successfully conducted. The world is praising it because this is the way to fight the coronavirus. But even after this, you cannot (have) lockdown permanently. It was needed to start economic activity.
“The world has seen that in such a pandemic, the country which saves lives actually gets better… We have saved lives and, at the same time, we must start economic activity. To that end, the prime minister has partially opened up economic activities,” he said.
To a question about Rahul Gandhi’s claim that the lockdown was not a solution to the pandemic, he took a dig at him, saying that the Congress leader must be “more knowledgeable” about COVID-19 than others.
“The world is praising India for timely lockdown and its good implementation. Compared to what we are witnessing in western countries, we are doing much better,” the senior BJP leader said, in an apparent reference to thousands of deaths in developed countries like the US, France, and Italy.
Shifting focus to economic activity
The toll due to COVID-19 in India was at 507 and the number of cases at 15,712 on Sunday, according to the Union Health Ministry.
Javadekar said Modi kept a keen eye on the COVID-19 spread outside India even when there was not a single case here and would tell his cabinet colleagues about the potential danger.
India now has 700 COVID-19 hospitals, over one lakh isolation beds, more than 11,000 ICUs for coronavirus patients, and has begun manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), rapid test kits and masks that it did not do earlier, he added.
The Union minister said partial resumption of economic activities, including all agriculture-related work, fishery and dairy works besides industries active in rural areas, under the prescribed guidelines would bring relief to the rural economy.
Work under MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) will also start, he noted, adding that over 13 crore families will benefit.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
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