The Union home ministry has been asked to look into the possibility of letting a select group of industries resume production to revive economic activity and provide liquidity in the hands of the people.
The recommendation, made by the department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT), said the home ministry should expand the list of activities that are permitted once the Centre decides how to move on the Covid-19 lockdown. It came up with a list of 12 categories of industries that should be allowed to resume production in the first instance.
The recommendation comes before the 21-day lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to end on April 14. PM Modi hasn’t indicated his mind on the subject yet but stressed at his video conference with chief ministers that the government would need to strike a balance between “jaan” (lives) and “jahan” (the outside world). It was interpreted to imply that the restrictions will continue in some form to preserve lives but with relaxations to resume economic activity and preserve livelihoods.
Top government officials told Hindustan Times that while the decision on the lockdown is work in progress, the PM Modi-led government had been very clear that it should not sequester millions of people from 161 districts that do not have a single case of coronavirus disease. Not even a suspected case.
The officials pointed to health ministry data that indicated the four worst-affected states are Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. These four states account for nearly half of India’s Covid-19 cases.
It is in this contect, one official explained, that the government is looking at a graded response to lifting the lockdown, depending on the Covid-19 cases in the district and the state.
According to top government officials, around 100-odd districts are severely hit by the coronavirus disease and hence there was a need to seal these hotspots. In districts that have isolated instances of Covid-19 cases, many of the restrictions could be lifted to allow economic activity.
In its decision, the Centre will also account for the stand taken by the states such as Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu that have spoken in favour of a two-week extension. For instance, in Delhi, the state administration feels they need two weeks to unearth all the contacts of the Tablighi Jamaat.
Given that health is a state subject, the government may consider the demands of the chief ministers for extension.
“But it will be a nuanced approach,” a senior government functionary aware of the developments, told HT.
Even in these states, he explained, the game plan would be to have containment zones with no movement while allowing economic activity to pick up outside these hotspots with social distancing and masks.
Officials said it was in this context that the DPIIT secretary Guruprasad Mohapatra’s communication to the home ministry had to be seen.
Mohapatra reasoned that the industrial units which may be allowed to operate must meet five conditions. It should have a single entry points for workers, sufficient space to ensure social distancing, use of separate transport to ferry workers if they can’t be accommodated in the factory premises and high quality regular sanitisation of the premises. Also, state and district authorities, while allowing these new activities, should ensure strict observance of these conditions.
The first ones to be permitted could be large industrial units that have proper sanitation and distancing norms in place such as textiles, automobiles and electronic manufacturing. To begin with, they could start with utilising only 20% to 25% capacity in a single shift.
The DPITT letter also listed 16 sectors that could be allowed this plan. This list includes heavy electrical items like transformers and circuit vehicles, telecom equipment and components including optic fibre cable, compressor and condenser units, steel and ferrous alloy mills, spinning and ginning mills, power looms, defence and defence ancillary units, cement plants, pulp and paper units, fertiliser plants, paints and dyes manufacturing, all types of food and beverages, seeds processing units, plastic manufacturing units, automotive units, gems and jewellery sector units (big and organised) and all units in Special Economic Zones and export-oriented units.