Odishatv Bureau

New Delhi: Following announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday night to enforce 21-day complete nationwide lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) issued guidelines for the lockdown period in the country and released a list of essential services that will remain open during this time. The MHA also invoked the National Disaster Management Act which may result in imprisonment of up to two years for any violation.

The Centre has asked the state governments to ensure unhindered operation of essential services and their seamless availability for the general public during the 21-day lockdown period.

In a communication to chief secretaries and DGPs of all states, the Union Home Ministry said all states and UTs should actively enforce social distancing and isolation for COVID-19 through lockdown and prohibitory measures with exemptions for supply chain and transportation of essential goods and services in and out of the state.

The ministry said while it was imperative to successfully implement the notified lockdown/restrictions, it was also necessary to ensure the unhindered operations of manufacturing, processing, transportation, distribution, storage, trade/commerce and logistics related to all services/establishments and commodities required for the delivery of essential services, which have been exempted under the various prohibitory orders.

Also Read: Coronavirus Outbreak: PM Modi Announces 21-Day Nationwide Lockdown

"In order to ensure that these provisions are seamlessly available at ground level it would be necessary for each State/UT to set-up a 24x7 control room/office with helplines (at state/ district level) to address any grievance or undue problems faced by the providers of goods/ services including during inter-state movement," the communication said.

The ministry said a nodal officer may be appointed in a state to coordinate with the district administration/police in this matter.

This is necessary to ensure continuity of supply chain for essential commodities, several of which may be of perishable nature

It may also be necessary to lay down a standard operating protocol for unhindered operation of essential services/establishments and commodities, including appointment of nodal officers at inter-state borders, issue of vehicular passes etc.

The ministry said state helpline facilities may be also made available to ensure adequate protection to essential service providers, government or PSU employees/ healthcare workers engaged in providing essential services or requisitioned for administrative exigencies in each state/UT from any unwanted stigmatisation by any local person on any grounds, including their working in an exposed environment (like hospitals, public facilities, essential service facilities etc).

"In view of the above, it is accordingly requested to issue suitable directions to set up a nodal control room/office with helplines in the state and appoint a nodal officer immediately," it said.

The details of such helpline numbers may be given wide publicity in the state/UT concerned, the ministry said.

Strict Lockdown Guidelines, Violation May Invite Jail Term

All government offices, the offices of state and union territory governments, autonomous institutions, public corporations, commercial, private, industrial establishments shall remain closed, the guidelines issued by the ministry said.

However, fair price shops and those dealing with food, groceries, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, animal fodder will remain open, it said.

Banks, insurance offices, print and electronic media will also remain open, according to the guidelines.

All transport services -- air, rail and roadways -- shall remain suspended during the three-week period, it said.

"In case of funerals, congregations of not more than 20 persons will be permitted," it said. Hospitality services and educational institutions will remain suspended during the period.

Also Read: Zero Tolerance Towards Coronavirus Lockdown Violations: Odisha Govt

However, hotels, homestays, lodges and motels which are accommodating tourists and people stranded due to the lockdown, medical and emergency staff, air and sea crew have been exempted, it said.

Defence, Central Armed Police Forces, treasury, public utilities including petroleum, CNG, LPG, PNG, disaster management, power, warning agencies, state police, home guards, fire and emergency services, district administration and treasury, electricity, water, sanitation, and Municipal bodies (only staff required for essential services) have been exempted from lockdown, it said.

These offices should work with minimum number of employees while all other offices will work from home, it said.

District Magistrates shall deploy Executive Magistrates as incident commander to oversee overall implementation of these measures, it said.

To ensure strict implementation of these measures, the government has invoked Sections 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management of Act which mandates up to two years of imprisonment for any violation by individuals, companies or officials involved in implementation, they said.

MHA Asks States To Check Rumours About Shortage Of Food, Essential Commodities

The Union Home Ministry has asked state governments to check the spread of rumours about shortage of food and other essential commodities.

In a communication to chief secretaries and DGPs of all states, the ministry asked them to take action to allay apprehensions and maintain peace and tranquillity, and inform people about the availability of food, medicine and other essential commodities.

The ministry said that in the wake of the orders issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (for lockdown), there were possibilities of rumour-mongering, including those about shortage of food and other essential services and commodities.

"In this context, it is imperative that all state governments and Union Territory administrations take necessary steps to suitably publicise through all available means that food, medical and civil supplies, and other essential services will be maintained and there are adequate supplies available in the country," the communication said.

The ministry also requested the chief secretaries and the DGPs to disseminate information and provisions of the guidelines issued on the measures to be taken during the 21-day lockdown period for containment of COVID-19 epidemic in the country.

Delivery of all essential goods, including food, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, through e-commerce, has also been exempted from the purview of the lockdown, it said.

"All enforcing authorities to note that these strict restrictions fundamentally relate to the movement of people, but not to that of essential goods," it said.

(With PTI inputs)