CHANDIGARH: Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday announced phased opening of shops after a few of his cabinet colleagues raised the issue of resentment among shopkeepers over selective closure of shops amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Chairing a virtual cabinet meeting, Singh ruled out a complete lockdown while stating that the restrictions currently in place in Punjab were more stringent than the lockdown conditions in many other states.
Besides phased opening of shops, he also announced various incentives for the housing sector, including three-month extension in permission period of construction of plots/projects for allotments, whether private or allotted, by state urban development authorities.
Amid spiralling COVID-19 cases, the CM ordered limiting the number of teachers in government schools to 50 per cent, with the rest taking online classes from home.
Taking note of the resentment among shopkeepers over selective closure of shops, he asked district administration officials to work out phased shop reopening plan for their respective districts, according to a government statement.
Several cabinet ministers, including Manpreet Badal, Tripat Bajwa and Bharat Bhushan Ashu, said the shopkeepers, especially in urban areas, were upset about selective shop shutdown as part of the restrictions imposed in the state.
The chief minister added that the objective of the closure had been to prevent crowding, but phased opening could be worked out by the district administrations.
Shopkeepers in Punjab had on Tuesday held protests against the state government's order of closure of shops dealing in non-essential items till May 15, saying this will further hit them hard.
The state government, however, had allowed liquor vends and some other shops selling items like fertilizers, grocery and hardware to open till 5 pm during weekdays.
The CM on Wednesday also directed the food department to prepare five lakh additional food packets for distribution among COVID-19 patients to ensure that every patient gets a packet even when there are more than one patient in a family.
The state government has also announced additional 10 kg 'Atta' (wheat) for 1.41 crore smart ration card beneficiaries.
The food aid is in addition to the 1 lakh food kits, containing 10 kg 'atta' (wheat flour), 2 kg 'chana' (pulses) and 2 kg sugar already sanctioned for all poor people testing positive for the infection.
Singh compared the restrictions in Punjab with the curbs in place in Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, among others, and pointed out that it was not necessary to impose a total lockdown to tackle the COVID-19 situation.
He also said that to meet immediate and urgent needs of the people at the local level, it had been decided by the government to authorise 'sarpanches' (village heads) 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 cognisance of problems resulting from the restrictions, the Congress leader asked the social welfare department to immediately release social security/pension amounts to ensure that people do not suffer further amid the current crisis.
He also directed all urban development authorities not to charge non-construction charges/extension fee/license renewal fee for the period April 1-July 31, 2021.
Further, these 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.
Singh also directed the health department to investigate the matter and take stringent action against such private hospitals.