Once again ruling out a complete lockdown in the state, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Wednesday noted that the restrictions currently in place were more stringent than the lockdown conditions in many other states. At the same time, he announced a series of relaxations and relief measures to alleviate the woes of various sections of the people amid the prolonged crisis.
The relaxations include phased opening of shops, and various incentives for the housing sector, including three-month extension in permission period of construction of plots or projects for allotments, whether private or allotted, by state urban development authorities.
Amid spiraling COVID-19 cases, the Chief Minister ordered limiting of the number of teachers in government schools to 50 percent, with the rest taking online classes from home.
He also directed the Food Department to prepare five lakh additional food packets for distribution among COVID-19 patients, to ensure that every patient individually gets a packet even where there are more than one patient in a family.
The State Government has also announced additional 10 kg atta for 1.41 crore Smart Ration Card beneficiaries. The food aid is in addition to the one lakh food kits, containing 10 Kg atta, two kg chana and two kg sugar already sanctioned for all poor people testing positive with COVID-19. It is also additional to the food aid announced by the Government of India.
Virtually chairing a cabinet meeting, the Chief Minister compared the Punjab restrictions with the curbs in place in states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, among others, and pointed out that it was not necessary to impose a total lockdown.
The Chief Minister said that to meet immediate and urgent needs of the people at the local level, it had been decided by the Government to authorize Sarpanches to spend up to Rs 5,000 per day, subject to a maximum of Rs 50,000, out of Panchayat Funds for providing emergency relief by way of food and medicines to the poor and needy in the villages.
All Urban Local Bodies have also been empowered to provide emergency relief, including food and medicines to the poor and needy, from the Municipal Fund.
Taking cognizance of the problems resulting from the restrictions, the Chief Minister asked the Social Welfare Department to immediate release social security or pension amounts to ensure that the people do not suffer further amid the current crisis.
For the Housing sector, apart from the permission extension, the Chief Minister has directed all
Urban Development Authorities not to charge non-construction charges or extension fee or license renewal fee for the period April 1 – July 31, 2021.
Further, the Urban Development Authorities have been asked to waive the interest to be charged on any delayed installment, which was otherwise due between April 1 and July 31, 2021, provided that it is paid in equated monthly installments after August 1, 2021.
Taking note of the resentment among shopkeepers over selective closure of shops, the Chief Minister asked the District Administration officials to work out the phased shop reopening plan for their respective districts.
Earlier, several Cabinet Ministers raised the issue of the resentment over selective closure of shops. Manpreet Badal, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Bharat Bhushan Ashu said that the shopkeepers, especially in urban areas, were upset about the selective shop shutdown as part of the restrictions imposed in the state.
The Chief Minister said that the objective of the closure had been to prevent crowding but phased opening could be worked out by District Administrations.
The Finance Minister earlier brought to the Cabinet’s notice instances of private hospitals overcharging COVID-19 patients despite fixing of rates.
The Chief Minister directed the Health Department to investigate the matter and take stringent action against such private hospitals.
PUNJAB HEALTH DEPTT YET TO RECEIVE ORDERED 30L DOSES; VACCINE SHORTAGE SCUTTLES 18-44 VACCINATION IN GOVT HOSPITALS
Yet to receive the 30 lakh doses of anti-coronavirus vaccination it had ordered from the Serum Institute of India (SII), Punjab Government is still not clear on initiating the third phase of the vaccination drive targeting the 18-44 age group.
Taking strong note, the Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has now asked the state Health Department to explore all options for the supply of vaccination.
The state Health Secretary Hussan Lal informed the Cabinet, during a virtual meeting, that though the State Government had made payment of Rs 10.37 crore to the Serum Institute of India (SII) for procurement of around 30 lakh doses on April 26, “no schedule for supply has, so far, been received from them”.
“Only some private hospitals, which had placed direct orders for vaccination, have commenced the process of vaccinating the 18-44 population,” he informed the meeting.
Notably, Punjab’s Government hospitals have failed to kickstart the process of vaccinating people in 18-44 age group due to non-availability of vaccine doses.
The Health Secretary stated that for the State Government, SII has only indicated that the availability of Covishield will be known in about four weeks’ time.
“In the circumstances, vaccination in 18-44 age group could not be launched in government hospitals, nor there is any clarity on when the process could begin,” he added.
The Centre had announced to open the third phase of anti-COVID-19 vaccination from May 1, while leaving it on the State Governments to procure the vaccination doses on its own. However, the state is yet to receive the first batch of vaccines from the SII.
ONE-TIME RELAXATION GIVEN FOR LAND TRANSFER TO ICMR FOR VIROLOGY INSTITUTE
The cabinet has approved one-time relaxation in Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules, 1964, for transfer of five acres of Panchayat land in Mohali to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for establishment of National Institute of Virology for North Zone. The Institute has been sanctioned by the Central Government on a proposal by the Punjab Government.
The Cabinet authorized Mohali Deputy Commissioner to complete all necessary formalities for transfer of the land in village Mullanpur Garibdas in block Kharar in district SAS Nagar (Mohali). Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan said that construction for the Institute would start by the end of this year.
Notably, there is no provision in the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules, 1964, for gifting panchayat land to the Central Government, but Section 21 of the General Clauses Act, 1897 provides that the power to make rules includes the power to amend or relax the rules.
The Cabinet noted that the Institute will be for the welfare of the inhabitants of Punjab, the cabinet noted. It further stressed that the institute would be of vital importance in view of the pandemic.