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Shah meets MHA officials ahead of issuing lockdown 4.0 guidelines, states bat for relaxations

Shah, who was in his North Block office for nearly five hours on Friday, held meetings with top officials of the ministry, including Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla.

Published: 15th May 2020 11:07 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2020 11:07 PM   |  A+A-

A view of Lajpat Nagar Market during ongoing COVID-19 lockdown in New Delhi Friday May 15 2020. (Photo | PTI)

By PTI

NEW DELHI: Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday held several meetings with his ministry's officials ahead of the announcement of guidelines for the fourth-phase of the coronavirus-induced lockdown that begins from Monday, officials said.

Shah, who was in his North Block office for nearly five hours on Friday, held meetings with top officials of the ministry, including Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla.

Senior officials have been busy in finalising the guidelines for the fourth-phase of the lockdown, a home ministry official said.

However, details of Shah's meetings were not known immediately.

State governments favoured more relaxations in lockdown restrictions for scaling up economic activities in non-containment coronavirus zones, as the Centre mulled easing some strict curbs in the fourth phase of the shutdown from Monday.

Some governments were also in favor of extending the lockdown till the end of this month.

The 54-day lockdown in three phases to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic is due to end on May 17.

The Mizoram government on Friday announced it was extending the lockdown till May 31 while the Bihar government urged the Centre to continue the unprecedented measure till the month-end besides keeping rail and air traffic, other than the 'Shramik Special' trains for migrant labourers and evacuation flights, suspended during the period.

"No state wants complete withdrawal of lockdown but all want gradual resumption of economic activities," said an official in the Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA).

Several states and union territories(UT) also wanted the powers to decide on the zoning of 733 districts into green, orange and red as per the COVID-19 situation.

An official privy to the deliberations in the central government said there will be lots of relaxations and flexibility in lockdown 4.0 with the complete reopening of the green zones, very limited curbs in orange zones and strict restrictions only in the containment areas of red zones.

The official also said states and UTs may be empowered to take decisions on easing of the curbs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on Monday, had said lockdown 4.0 will have a completely different form with new rules.

The state governments and UT administrations were asked to submit their recommendations on the road ahead for the country by Friday.

"We appealed to the Centre to extend the lockdown by two more weeks. We have already sent our detailed views on this," said Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

Sonowal told reporters in Guwahati that the state has also conveyed its views on the relaxations it wants in the fourth phase of the lockdown.

According to an official at the Centre, Punjab, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Assam and Telangana wanted the lockdown to be continued, and to be given powers to decide the zoning of districts -- green, orange and red -- as per the COVID-19 situation.

This request of the state governments may be accepted so that they can restrict or allow movement of people or economic activities in a particular place depending on the ground situation, the official told PTI.

Schools, colleges, malls and cinema halls will not be allowed to open anywhere in the country but salons, barbershops and optical shops may be allowed in red zones, barring COVID-19 containment areas, the official said.

However, the final guidelines will be issued by the MHA only after going through the suggestions of the state governments.

Gradual and need-based operations of the railways and domestic airlines are likely to be allowed from next week but the full-fledged opening of the two sectors is unlikely to take place immediately, the official said.

Besides Bihar, states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were not in favor of the complete resumption of train and air services, at least till May-end, the official said.

Tamil Nadu, though inclined to further ease curbs to pep up the economy, has categorically told the Centre it was against opening up air and train services till May 31 as the number of coronavirus cases in the state inched towards 10,000 only to be behind Maharashtra.

Also, the government is unlikely to resume the operation of state-run buses.

Maharashtra, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths from the virus, wants strict lockdown measures to continue in Mumbai Metropolitan Region(MMR), Pune, Solapur, Aurangabad and Malegaon till May 31 and complete stop of inter-state and inter-district transport of any kind.

"In the rest of the state, the guidelines of the Centre will be implemented when they are announced before the lockdown-3 ends on May 17," a state official said in Mumbai.

Maharashtra accounts for nearly 28,000 coronavirus cases to top the countrywide tally which stood at around 82,500.

Whereas, Gujarat with the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases was for the resumption of economic activities in major urban centers.

"If we keep people away from their jobs and professions, it will prove catastrophic for them and their families. Even the state's economic condition will deteriorate if this situation persists," said Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel.

"Economic activity is also important. Now, people cannot afford to sit at home fearing coronavirus. Our government is also of the same opinion."

States which are in favour of opening up of economic activities include Delhi, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, according to the central official.

"After May 17, the government of India is going to relax so many things, let us wait for it," said Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa.

"According to me they (Centre) will relax everything. Maybe for things like five-star hotels and others they may not give permission for the time being, but for other things they are going to give permission. Let's wait and see," he told reporters in Bengaluru.

Kerala sought industrial and commercial activities to be allowed in rural and urban areas except in containment zones, the opening of domestic air service, intra-state passenger trains and metro rail services, though it was not keen for inter-state railway services at present.

It has also suggested intra-district bus service with a limited number of passengers and strict health protocols, including social distancing.

The opening of the hospitality sector with strict social distancing inside restaurants has also been mooted.

Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, which have seen a spike in the COVID-19 cases after the arrival of migrant workers, want a continuation of lockdown with strict curbs on movement of people.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel urged Prime Minister Modi not to open state boundaries for the next few months and called for stopping inter-state transportation, except for migrants or essential services, to curb the spread of coronavirus.

He, however, called for opening up of economic activities with precautions and social-distancing norms and also favoured allowing all e-commerce activities and opening of hotels but not restaurants and bars.

Local trains, buses and metro services may start running with limited capacity in non-containment areas of red zones in the country, according to the central official.

Autos and taxis are also expected to be allowed in red zones with restrictions on the number of passengers.

Most of these services will be allowed within the districts in non-containment areas and state governments may be authorised to take a call on their reopening, the official said.

Powers to open markets in orange and red zones may be given to state governments, which may follow the odd-even policy while allowing shops of non-essential goods to open.

The Delhi government in its proposal to the Centre suggested the opening of markets, shopping complexes and operation of buses and metro services with strict social distancing norms.

The government has also mooted construction activities in the national capital and that movement of labourers within Delhi be allowed, sources in the government said.

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