Punjab CM favours extension of nationwide lockdown

TC Bureau Chandigarh: Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday recommended extension of the national lockdown by at least a fortnight, while suggesting a slew of health and relief measures to the people in the state’s COVID-19 battle.

Besides, he sought special concessions for industry and agriculture sectors on an urgent basis. Participating in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference with all the Chief Ministers, Amarinder Singh pointed out that there was a huge uncertainty about the likely incidence of disease and the nation was in for a long fight.

Given the trend in China and several European countries, it was necessary to continue the lockdown, he said, adding that though the restrictions were causing a lot of hardship to the people, India could not afford to take any chances. The people of Punjab have a high morale, and will continue to support government efforts to combat the pandemic, he said.

Amarinder Singh informed that the state government had already decided to go for curfew till May 1, with all educational institutions to be closed till June 30 with state board examinations deferred till further orders. Section 144 remains in place, along with prohibition of public service vehicles till May 1.

Pointing to the excellent work being done by the people in the current crisis, Amarinder Singh sought a special risk insurance for all government employees, including police personnel, sanitation workers and all other employees, who are working day and night to help ameliorate the miseries and stress of the common man in these trying times.

Underlining the need to substantially increase the number of tests being done and go for rapid testing, at least in the state”s hotspot areas of Nawanshahr, Dera Bassi and Mohali, the Chief Minister said the Central government should hasten supplies of required testing kits.

The Chief Minister requested Rs 500 crore for quick upgradation of infrastructure of government hospitals in Punjab, which is currently at Stage II of the pandemic and has a large NRI population. He also called for speedy approval, on a priority basis, by the Centre to the state”s proposal for Rs 550 crore project to set up an advanced centre for virology in Punjab.

On the relief measures needed urgently in the light of the current crisis, the Chief Minister urged the government of India to defer recovery, and waiver of interest and penalties, on industrial loans for six months.

Emphasising that the industrial establishments could not continue to look after their workers, and even pay their salaries for the period of lockdown, for a long time, he asked the Centre to think of some innovative solutions for relief to daily wage workers and industrial labour either through ESIC funds or under MNREGA.

The government of India may allow village panchayats and municipalities to utilize the 14th Finance Commission Grants for emergency relief including food and medicines for the poor and needy, he said. Referring to the massive harvesting and procurement operations set to begin in Punjab next week, the Chief Minister reiterated his demand for bonus to farmers to incentivize staggered or delayed procurement of wheat.

He also called for quicker movement of food grains lying in FCI godowns in Punjab, along with waiver of three months” interest on crop loans and deferment of recovery of crops loans by commercial banks. Thanking the Centre for releasing substantial funds since the last meeting, Amarinder Singh stressed the need for early release of pending arrears of GST on priority basis to help the state.

The Chief Minister shared with the Prime Minister the latest update on the situation in Punjab, and the state”s preparedness to deal with the spread of the pandemic.

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