New Delhi: Likening the situation in the country to a social emergency , Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday made it clear that the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 cannot be lifted in one go on April 14, asserting that the priority of his government is to "save each and every life".
Interacting with floor leaders of opposition and other parties in Parliament via video conferencing to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and the government's efforts to mitigate the hardships due to the lockdown, the prime minister said the country is facing "serious economic challenges as a result of COVID-19, and the government is committed to overcoming them."
India is under the 21-day lockdown since March 25, with only essential services exempted, to contain the spread of coronavirus. As per the Union health ministry's evening update, there are 149 deaths and 5,274 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country even as the country entered its third week of nationwide lockdown.
"Prime Minister Modi made it clear that lockdown is not being lifted and also that the life pre-corona and post-corona will not be same," Biju Janata Dal leader Pinaki Misra told PTI.
Several state governments suggesting PM Modi to extend the #lockdown: BJD MP Pinaki Mishra#CoronavirusPandemic #lockdownextension pic.twitter.com/EJO5mWZq9p
— OTV (@otvnews) April 8, 2020
Also Read: COVID19 Lockdown In Odisha: ‘Broken Chain Of Command Triggering Price Rise’
Apart from Misra, others who participated in the meet included Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, also leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha, Nationalist Congress Party head Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party' s Ram Gopal Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party's Satish Misra, Lok Janshakti Party's Chirag Paswan.
The meet comes amidst indications that the Central government may extend the lockdown across the country beyond April 14 after several states have favoured the extension to contain the fast-spreading virus, as the positive cases in the country show no signs of any let up.
"The situation in the country is akin to a social emergency. The country has been forced to take tough decisions, and must continue to remain vigilant," the prime minister told the leaders, according to an official statement.
States, district administrations and experts have suggested extension of the ongoing lockdown beyond April 14 to contain the spread of the virus, Modi said. The official statement, however, did not mention whether the lockdown will be extended.
According to official sources, Modi will interact with chief ministers of all states on April 11 to discuss various issues related to the coronavirus outbreak including the lockdown.
Asserting that India has been among the few nations to control the pace of spread of the virus till now, Modi, however, warned that the situation keeps changing continuously and one needs to maintain vigil at all times.
Azad said the prime minister told the meeting that he has received several requests for extension of the lockdown to contain COVID-19, but will take a call on it after consulting experts and the chief ministers of various states.
Around 80 per cent of the leaders from various political parties, who interacted with the prime minister through video-conferencing, favoured extending the lockdown, the Congress leader said while Paswan told Modi that there has been a lot of speculation about the lockdown but the prime minister is in the best position to take a decision.
Also Read: Cremation Of COVID19 Victims Will Be Under Odisha Govt’s Watch
Paswan, however, said that any relaxation in the lockdown must be done in a phased manner, and district and state borders should remain sealed for a long time.
While crowded urban centres like malls and cinema halls can remain closed for more time, farmers in rural areas should be given relaxation, Paswan said.
Sources said, these leaders were briefed by secretaries of various ministries---health, home and rural development ---on the actions taken by the government to tackle COVID-19 and mitigate the hardships arising out of the lockdown.
Several opposition leaders raised the issue of shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers in the country, a source said.
Other leaders who attended the virtual meet were T R Baalu (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), Sukhbir Singh Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal), Rajiv Ranjan Singh (Janata Dal-United), Pinaki Mishra (Biju Janata Dal) and Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena).
Giving up its initial reluctance, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) also attended the interaction. TMC leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay was among the participants.
Modi interacted with leaders of those parties whose combined strength of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha adds up to five.
Baalu said he sought a relief of Rs 10,000 from the Centre in two equal installments, to be provided to all BPL families, besides Rs 5,000 as subsidy to all LPG users while Bandopadhyay urged Modi not to suspend the MPLAD funds scheme as it would impact development works at the grassroots level.
The DMK leader also told reporters in Chennai that he asked Modi to "drop the (building a new Parliament) move as it was unnecessary at this juncture. The nation would require huge funds to combat Covid-19 pandemic."
Bandopadhyay said, "I have requested the prime minister for a financial moratorium (for debt servicing) for West Bengal and to give the financial package of Rs 25,000 crore as demanded by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. I have also requested him not to suspend the MPLAD funds and told him that we are ready to give away our full salary.
The MPLAD funds help public representatives to take development to the grassroots level and it should not be stopped, added.
This is prime minister's first interaction with the floor leaders, including those from the Opposition, after the imposition of the nationwide lockdown on March 25 though he had held interactions with chief ministers of all states including those ruled by non-NDA parties.
The leaders also talked about financial packages for states, boosting the health and morale of the healthcare workers, ramping up testing facilities, the need to assist smaller states and UTs, and tackling the challenges of hunger and malnutrition, the statement said.
They also spoke about economic and other policy measures to boost the country's capability in the battle against the pandemic, it added.
They thanked the prime minister for the meeting, appreciated the timely measures taken by him and said that the "entire country is standing united behind him during the crisis", the statement said.
The prime minister has also held interactions with various stakeholders, including doctors, journalists and heads of Indian missions to get a feedback on ways to check the spread of coronavirus.
He also recently spoke to various political party heads including Congress' Sonia Gandhi, TMC's Mamata Banerjee and DMK's MK Stalin and discussed the COVID-19 situation.
He had also talked to former presidents Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee, and former prime ministers HD Deve Gowda and Manmohan Singh.
(With PTI Inputs)