New Delhi: Just six days before the extended coronavirus lockdown ends, Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted his interaction with Chief Ministers of all states and Union territories on Monday morning through a video link. The meeting started at 10 am.
While the meeting is likely to discuss the country's overall and state-specific progress in the war on COVID-19 in the second leg of the lockdown and the way forward, a large emphasis will address the concerns of most states of revenue shortfalls and job losses.
Already, various states, including Punjab, have written to the Centre asking it to allow the sale of liquor due to the massive revenue shortfalls.
Punjab Special Chief Secretary KBS Sidhu earlier last week in an interview to IANS had said: "It must also be mentioned that even the government is going to lose a very substantial part of its revenue, on a proportionate basis, which is budgeted to be Rs 6,000 crore for the full-year 2020-21."
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel too batted for an economic package which he said will be 'key to survival'.
In an interview to IANS, Bhaghel said: "We have got Rs 1,500 crore from our share of Rs 2,000 crore, but there is no economic activity. From registry to transportation, mines and sale of liquor -- everything has stopped. The states have no revenue, and if things go on like this, we will not be able to pay salaries to the employees."
In Maharashtra also, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Raj Thackeray, in a letter to the Chief Minister's Officer (CMO), had said that allowing wine shops to remain open does not mean trying to cater to the needs of alcohol consumers but to ensure revenue inflow during difficult times.
He had also called for allowing hotels and kitchens providing affordable foods to run, saying that as a big chunk of Maharashtras population is dependent on them.
The ruling Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, however, mocked the MNS chief for demanding to reopen of liquor shops and eateries together.
"Through his demand, he has pointed it out to the government that like food, alcohol is an essential commodity. He has given invaluable information that as a rice plate is important for people, they are also dependent on 'quarter' and 'peg'," it said.
It sought to know whether he has made the demand out of the concern for the state''s revenues or on behalf of the tipplers.
As the fourth such meeting since the imposition of lockdown in March starts, addressing the economic woes of the states will figure significantly as much as balancing it with ensuring social distancing and flattening the curve of Coronavirus, insists government sources.
While the Centre has allowed partial easing in the lockdown norms from April 20 to activities, like road construction, agriculture and mining, few states, such as Telangana, have decided against relaxations.
But now with the second leg of lockdown to nearing the end, the meeting may be followed by a targeted economic package with the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Sector grabbing the government's attention.
As lockdown 2.0 ends on May 3, Prime Minister will seek suggestions from Chief Ministers to formulate a common exit plan.
The nationwide 21-day lockdown that started on April 14 was extended till May 3 by Modi on the last day of its first leg.
Modi said between life and livelihood, he valued saving lives and that prompted him to extend the lockdown. Even on Sunday's "Maan Ki Baat", the Prime Minister aggressively pitched for "do gaj ki doori".
By Monday morning, India's COVID-19 tally reached 27,892 and 872 deaths. So while addressing the life versus livelihood debate, saving lives remains the priority of the government, during video conference PM Modi may well have to allay fears of the states regarding the revenue generation that pays salary to government employees.