Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Monday pitched for extension of the lockdown but with a carefully crafted strategy, backed by fiscal and economic empowerment of the states, to save lives and secure livelihood.
Clearly favouring continuation of a strict lockdown in view of the escalating cases of Covid-19 nationwide during the videoconference with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister said that states needed to be given greater flexibility in micro-planning as part of a carefully planned exit strategy, encompassing both Covid-19 containment and a defined path of economic revival.
The “exit strategy” should consider and focus on fiscal and economic empowerment of the States, which are responsible for the real action directly impinging upon the livelihood and social health of the common man, said the Chief Minister, suggesting that States should be allowed great flexibility in micro-planning, with MSMEs to be allowed to function in ‘red zone’ districts with proper safeguards.
He stressed that the decision on designating the red, orange or yellow and green zones should be left to the states “which are more cognizant of the ground realities”.
At the same time, Capt Amarinder demanded urgent financial assistance to the States to meet at least 33 percent of their committed liabilities, along with revenue grants to the states for three months to meet shortfall in revenue and to fund expenditure on Covid-19.
The Chief Minister also called for a National Strategy on Covid Testing for making the battle against Covid more effective, pointing out that he had also written to the Prime Minister to direct Central Government institutions in Chandigarh and Punjab to increase testing capacity. “Punjab has, so far, done 40,962 tests, with current testing rate at 2,500 per day, which the State Government planned to scale up to 6,000 by end of the month,” he added.
Pointing out that Punjab had procured 115 lakh MT of wheat with proper social distancing and hygiene protocols in place, the Chief Minister also requested for early declaration of MSP on paddy and a bonus on non-burning of paddy stubble.
The Chief Minister informed the Prime Minister that Punjab was losing Rs 3,000 crore per month in revenue (totally 88 percent of the estimated revenue loss recorded in April), along with Rs 30 crore daily loss for Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (a decline of 30 percent).
He also reiterated his demand for immediate release of the Punjab’s GST arrears of Rs 4,365.37 crore.
Further, said the Chief Minister, in view of the complete change in the situation due to the pandemic, the 15th Finance Commission should review its report for the current year, and recommend devolution of funds for five years beginning from April 1, 2021, (instead of 2020) onwards after factoring in the impact of Covid-19, for which the term of the Commission should be extended by another year.
Capt Amarinder also urged the Prime Minister to increase the borrowing limit under the Financial Responsibility and Budget Management Act-2005 (FRBM Act) from three to four percent of SGDP to enable states to meet their fiscal liabilities.
Punjab Government had been fighting the Covid battle from the front, and had successfully brought down mortality rate in the state to 1.8 percent, while containing the doubling rate at around seven days against national average of 11 days, the Chief Minister pointed out during the meeting.
“The rate of increase is falling after having risen sharply in the last 10 days due to the large number of persons who tested positive from returnees from other States,” he said, expressing the confidence that the situation should improve further in the coming week.
In terms of inbound movement of stranded people, the Chief Minister disclosed that around 56,000 persons from Punjab stranded in other states had registered with his government, with around 20,000 Indian nationals returning from other countries. The State Government had made elaborate arrangements made for quarantine and testing, he added.
For outbound transportation, 11.50 lakh migrants had registered — mainly in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, and Amritsar — and largely bound for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, said Capt Amarinder, adding that 50 trains with such migrants had already left, and on average, 13-14 trains were leaving daily.