States are demanding more cash relief as the country faces an 'unprecedented economic catastrophe'
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (center) talks to the media on his arrival at parliament in New Delhi on June 17, 2019. His government faces tough choices over how to react to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: IANS)
India's 40-day lockdown, seen as a viable tool to fight the coronavirus, is likely to be extended despite fears of a crashing economy that could push millions into poverty and hunger.A 21-day nationwide lockdown that began on March 24 was extended to May 3, but several state chief ministers urged a further extension in a video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 27. Reports said Modi is likely to extend the lockdown beyond May 3, albeit with certain relaxations, especially to help stalled industrial units.
Mortality rateBJP leaders are saying PM Modi is pragmatic as he does not want to risk people's lives for the economy. He especially wants to keep the mortality rate of Covid-19 under check, they say.However, India Ratings and Research, a credit rating company, predicted that growth expectations for the economy would be around 1.9 percent down, from 3.6 percent in March.This will be the lowest GDP growth in the last 29 years and is based on the assumption that the partial lockdown may be extended until mid-May.Ajoy Kumar, spokesman for Janata Dal (United), which is part of the ruling coalition, said the prime minister has rightly emphasised protecting people's lives and health, "the central source of wealth" for the country.He also stressed stricter compliance with lockdown rules as about 60 percent of positive coronavirus cases in India have come without showing any symptoms.In dealing with economic challenges as a direct fallout of Covid-19, there are micro-level issues revolving around morality.In India, liquor consumption is traditionally seen as a taboo. Alcohol sales were banned as part of the lockdown, and the federal government has rejected a plea to allow the sale of alcohol in Congress party-ruled Punjab state.Similar requests from the states of Assam, Meghalaya and Kerala also faced stiff resistance. States are seeking the green light to sell liquor to make up for the loss of revenues.The government justifies restrictions on liquor by saying the priority is on health care and the supply of essential food for ordinary people, migrants and marginalized workers.The revenue-starved government has announced a US$24 million relief package to take care of the poor and those who need immediate help. However, state administrations are asking for more financial support.Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has demanded a federal government grant of some US$14 billion to states as revenue has drastically nosedived.The lack of cash is where the Modi government is feeling the pinch.
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