BY ANINDYA BANERJEE
New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) As the three-phase lockdown nears its end and Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised lockdown 4.0 will be “in a new avatar”, states are wary about the zoning parameters.
While many states are against entire districts being put in red zones due to presence of containment zones, some wanted that right of demarcation of zones be transferred to the states. Even some BJP-ruled states like Assam and Haryana seem to have gone against Central lockdown advisories and thus seemingly joined the chorus of opposition ruled states like that of Rajasthan and West Bengal to let states decide what’s best for themselves.
After the Centre had allowed certain relaxations in terms of economic activities mid-April, Kerala went on to demarcate seven districts including Kottayam as either green or orange zones. However, the Centre disagreed as 22 of the 88 hotspots in the state were from the seven districts. Unaware about the miscommunication between the Centre and the state, many came to the streets giving law enforcement agencies a nightmare to undo the damage.
As lockdown 4.0 is all set to roll in with expected new relaxations, all states are clear that “they don’t want such confusion over zones.”
Increasingly, more and more states want the power to decide what is best for them – to give relaxations when Centre wants to curb or impose restrictions even when Centre wants relaxation.
BJP-ruled Assam is the latest entrant to the list of such states which says places like Guwahati that has seen a sudden spike of cases has made it rethink. Now, with 22 cases from the city, the government is firm to impose stricter restrictions despite Guwahati being in the Green Zone. The state is also favouring strict measures on ‘containment zone basis’ rather than district basis.
Meanwhile, the national capital has already demanded greater economic activities across Delhi, despite the entire union territory being in the red zone. In the Chief Minister’s meeting with the Prime Minister through video conference, Arvind Kejriwal is believed to have asked to keep the containment zones like Nizamuddin and buffer areas around under strict curbs while freeing the rest of the city, allowing more activities. The CM is also keen to reopen malls and start auto and taxi services with conditions.
On the other hand, before any formal announcement of lockdown 4.0 by the Centre, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has unilaterally announced its extension while promising more relaxations. “A meeting was held with DMs and SPs. I have told them the lockdown will continue but we need to focus on relaxation. Our rural economy has also been broken. There must be a balance between tackling coronavirus and saving livelihoods,” she had said a day after she accused the Centre of playing “politics” with her state over COVID-19 and asking it to leave it to states on determining zones.
Banerjee has come up with a plan to micro divide red zones in her state into A,B, and C category with red zone A being the worst affected areas and hence won’t get any concessions. Meanwhile, buses will be allowed to ply in green zones in her state, the government has decided. The state has been one of the first which decided to conditionally open sweet shops, thus getting into a spat with the Home Ministery.
BJP-ruled Haryana too seems to favor customization of rules. Salons have reportedly opened up in the millennium city of Gurugram as it is announced as ‘Orange zone’. Visuals of salons opening up with employees wearing PPE kits came out. This despite the MHA category of salons as “service provider” and thus encouraged to stay shut.
Modi had asked Chief Ministers to send in their suggestions by today after which he will make an announcement about the contours of lockdown 4.0 which is more about revival than survival model. The government has already announced a slew of economic packages and partially opened special train services, despite opposition by some states like Telangana and Tamil Nadu.
But with more and more states demanding autonomy to make customised lockdown rules which are tailored for their respective states according to their demography, predominant industry and geography, will lockdown 4.0 differ from state to state, allowing Chief Ministers room to maneuver, while keeping the macro essentials intact? Sources in the government indicate, the Centre is “considering” it. However, no final decision has been taken yet.
The lockdown, enforced on March 25, was originally to end on April 14. It was then extended to May 3, and then again to May 17.
(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)