The PM has urged people to strictly stay indoors and promised delivery of all essential goods and services like banks, petrol pumps, ration, grocery, LPG supply by exempting them from the lockdown. Though India is increasing its potential day by day to combat the situation, the number of cases has been increasing steadily and have crossed 1,200 as of 31st March.
Measures by States and the Issue of Labour Migration
All states initiated a tight shutdown starting with educational institutions in the 2nd week of March. The country was horrified with the crammed mass of people at Delhi’s bus stations and widespread migration of people across state borders to return to their native places. All state governments have issued orders to make proper arrangements of temporary shelters for the poor people and migrant workers after UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath sent a letter to CMs of other states urging to take care of UP natives in their states.
“The state will protect them and provide food, but they should not leave their place. I understand that they are anxious but they should not leave. I request everyone not to believe in any fake news.” – Uddhav Thackeray, Chief Minister Maharashtra
As Maharashtra saw the maximum number of cases in early days, the government announced a curfew and has implemented a full lockdown including the suspension of Mumbai’s lifeline, the suburban local trains. CM Uddhav Thackeray‘s Shiv Bhojan scheme which offers meal at Rs 10 will be made available at Rs.5 from April 1. The Mumbai’s dabbawalas also suspended their services. The Maharashtra government has set up 163 centres to provide food and water to stop the large scale migration. Maharashtra government has also released 601 criminals from 37 prisons on parole to reduce crowding. It also announced an 8% cut in electricity tariffs.
A total of 104 prisoners were released in the western region, 113 in central, 145 in south and 239 in the east. – Sunil Ramanand, Additional Director General of Police (Prisons)
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced free ration for people with no ration cards along with other safety measures to protect the migrating labors. On 26 March, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced Rs.100 crore relief package for the state.
Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa and Andhra Pradesh CM Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy have announced free ration for all people. Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao also announced 12kgs of free rice for white ration cardholders.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced an increased insurance coverage from Rs.5 lakhs to Rs.10 lakhs for people who are risking their lives for others in this crisis. This includes doctors, police, nurses and courier services.
To tackle the shortage of sanitizers, 9 liquor factories in 7 districts of Rajasthan will be used to produce sanitizers. The state government also directed 4 private companies and 5 production units of state-owned Sugar Mills to start manufacturing sanitizers.
On March 5, the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Sikkim banned the entry of foreign nationals as a preventive measure.
Central Government’s Global Outreach and Economic Package
On 15th March, PM Narendra Modi led the SAARC nations video conference in which an emergency fund was proposed which was welcomed by the SAARC nations. PM Modi also participated in the emergency G20 video summit which decided on coordinated action against COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Economic Task Force formulated the Rs.1.7 lakh crores worth economic package to provide support to the poor people, health workers, and all business sectors. Private hospitals have been granted permission to start the treatment of COVID-19 patients. The government will pay EPF contribution for both employer & employee for the next 3 months benefitting 80 lakh employees. Provident fund scheme regulations have been amended to allow a non-refundable advance of 75% of the PF balance or 3 months of wages, whichever is lower.
To support the poor households; over 20 crore women Jan Dhan Account holders will get Rs.500 per month and Ujjwala beneficiaries will get free LPG cylinders for the next three months. The collateral-free loan has been doubled to Rs.20 lakhs for 63 lakh women self-help groups.
Under the MGNREGA scheme; the wages have been increased from Rs.182 to Rs.202 which will generate an additional income of Rs.2,000 for nearly 5 crore families. 8.69 crore farmers will be helped with an immediate installment of Rs.2,000 via Direct Cash Transfers in the first week of April.
On 25th March, Union Minister Prakash Javdekar announced an advance three-month ration of wheat at the rate of Rs 2 per kg, and rice at Rs 3 per kg for 80 crore people.
One-time amount of Rs 1000 will be given to senior citizens, widows and handicapped people, in two installments over the next three months impacting 3 crore people. Rs.50 lakhs insurance per health care worker is announced as a medical insurance cover for three months.
United We Stand
On 28th March, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) was set up to provide relief to the affected people. After the announcement people have come out in large numbers to contribute to this fund. It has received a great response from all segments of the society ranging from individuals, students, employees, MNC’s, celebrities, industrialists and corporations who are contributing in their own ways in this fight against COVID-19.
DRDO has started working on developing multi-patient ventilators in tie-up with companies like Tata, Mahindra, Honda, Hyundai, and Maruti Suzuki. All opportunities are being explored to build ventilators at the production units of these car companies to meet the growing demand.
All paramilitary forces personnel have contributed their one day salary. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation announced that all its 14,500 employees will contribute to the PM CARES Fund. Infosys Foundation has committed Rs.100 crores. The Tata Group has pledged Rs 1500 crores. The Adani and JSW group have pledged Rs 100 crores each.
Reliance Industries not only donated Rs.500 crores but also set up a hospital in Mumbai only for coronavirus patients. They have also donated an amount of Rs.5 crores each to the state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
After Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla appealed all the MPs to contribute to the PM Cares fund; nearly 15 MPs have donated Rs.1 crore each from their MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) funds. MLAs and MPs from different parties have contributed their one month’s salary to this fund.
Bollywood megastar Akshay Kumar personally contributed Rs 25 crores. Other celebrities like Vicky Kaushal, Katrina Kaif, Singer Lata Mangeshkar, Nana Patekar, Anushka Sharma and many more have come ahead to contribute the fund. Cricketers including Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli have pledged to donate to the PMCares fund.
Oil companies together have contributed Rs.1031.29 crores and also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 5 lakhs for any demise of their personnel involved in LPG distribution.
“Welcome the humanitarian decision taken by Indian Oil, BPCL and HPCL. The well-being of our workers is of paramount importance, this compassionate move will strengthen the safety nets of our workforce aiding India’s fight against corona.” – Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Petroleum Minister
Ola Cabs have given their 500 cabs for the safe transport of doctors and medical staff who are treating coronavirus patients. Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali also announced the help of Rs 25 crores. Vivo donated 1 lakh surgical and 5,000 N95 masks to the Maharashtra government. Hyundai-India announced to incur the cost of 25,000 COVID-19 Advanced Diagnostic Testing Kits that would be brought from South Korea.
Indian Railways at the Forefront
Indian Railways has geared up its entire machinery to take preventive measures. Control rooms have been set up all over and the railway staff is being sensitized and educated to combat the virus.
Indian railway services have been suspended to avoid migration of labour; they have stepped forward and transformed train coaches into quarantine facilities with the latest medical services. In an act of indigenous innovation in the face of disaster, the railways has overnight converted its trains into a fleet of moving isolation wards with a capacity of more than 6000. These have the potential to reach the remotest parts of India, parts bereft of modern hospital facilities.
“Railways will offer clean, sanitised & hygienic surroundings for the patients to comfortably recover.” – Piyush Goyal, Union Railway Minister
Criticism of Shortage of Testing Kits
India has been heavily criticized for its low number of testing kits. Only 6.8 tests per million Indians are at disposal. Initially, India was testing only those who had traveled to high-risk countries or had come in contact with an infected person but now anyone with severe respiratory distress and showing probable symptoms are being tested.
With the growing risk and number of cases, the number of tests is increasing with testing permissions now extended to several private labs too as compared to only one state lab initially. Approvals to 15 private companies were granted by the ICMR to commercially sell diagnostic kits based on licences obtained in the US and EU.
Mylab Diagnostics, a lab in Pune became the first Indian firm to get full approval to make and sell testing kits. It has already shipped the first batch of 150 kits to diagnostic labs in Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Goa, and Bengaluru. Each of their kits can test 100 samples and costs only Rs.1200 as compared to the imported one which costs Rs.4,500. The testing kit called Patho Detect was made in a record time of 6 weeks instead of 3-4 months.
It was an emergency, so I took this on as a challenge. Our kit gives the diagnosis in two and a half hours while the imported testing kits take six-seven hours.Minal Dakhave Bhosale, Virologist & Mylab R&D Chief
Measures by the RBI
The RBI’s monetary policy committee (MPC) meeting was held to discuss emergency measures to manage the crisis and handle the global economic slowdown. RBI gave a major relief with a moratorium of 3 months of EMIs on all types of outstanding loans with the added reduction in the repo rate by 75 basis points or 0.75%.
The outlook remains extremely uncertain at the time and going forward much will depend on how India battles Covid-19 pandemic. There is a rising probability that large parts of the world will slip into recession.Shaktikanta Das, RBI Governor
RBI announced 3-way liquidation injection which includes: the auction of long-term targeted repo operations, reduction of CRR to banks by 100 basis points and accommodation under MSF increased from 2% to 3% which will inject total liquidity of Rs 3.74 lakh crores to the system.
Travel Restrictions and Other Impacts
The central government has put all incoming travellers, including Indian nationals into quarantine of 14 days. All international and domestic flights stand suspended along with existing visas for India being cancelled. BCCI has postponed the opening of Indian Premier League from 29 March to 15 April. The ODI matches between India and South Africa on 15 and 18 March were also cancelled.
Stock exchanges BSE and NSE have cut down its working hours. It will now start at 9 am and close at 5 pm unlike midnight earlier. However, trading hours have remained unchanged. All toll plazas have been shut down to avoid any delay in the transport of essential goods.
The World Health Organisation has appreciated the measures taken by the Indian government and has asked people to cooperate with the authorities.