Curfew in many States, slowdown in economic activity behind announcement; PM also meets CMs of States with high burden of COVID-19
The Union government announced that 5 kg of food grains would be provided to 80 crore beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) for the months of May and June as many States were undergoing curfews and the high rates of coronavirus infections had led to a slowdown in economic activity.
The announcement came on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with Chief Ministers, especially of States with high COVID-19 case burden. The outlay for the free grain programme has been pegged at ₹26,000 crore.
Mr. Modi assured States that all resources, including the Indian Railways and the Indian Air Force (IAF), were being deployed to reach oxygen to different corners of the country. The PM asked States to be strict with curbing the hoarding and black marketing of essential drugs and injections as COVID-19 cases soared in India. He also said that the Central government would be providing vaccines against COVID-19 acquired by it to the States for free, as in the past.
The meeting with Chief Ministers, followed by Mr. Modi’s meeting with oxygen manufacturers, the fourth such review of oxygen availability in the last week, assumes significance with daily new cases going past the 3.5 lakh mark on Friday.
According to a statement released after the meeting with Chief Ministers, Mr. Modi had called for a unified approach in dealing with resource scarcities, which he said were being addressed. He stated that it was through such an approach during the first wave that India could tackle the first outbreak of COVID-19.
The PM said that the IAF was flying in empty tankers for oxygen to reduce turnaround time on supplies. The Railways had been roped in to run ‘Oxygen Express’ trains. He urged States fighting for scarce oxygen to set up coordination teams to allow the movement of tankers across State borders.
Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, which are now facing swiftly rising COVID-19 cases, were highlighted as an area of concern. Mr. Modi also expressed grief at the accidents that had taken place in hospitals, adding that hospital staff had to be more aware of safety protocols.
When Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal live streamed his interjection in the meeting, Mr. Modi. Mr. Kejriwal’s office later released a statement expressing regret, saying the live streaming was done under the impression that it was allowed as it had been done in previous meetings.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, going head-to-head with the BJP in the Assembly polls in her State, absented herself from the meeting for the second successive time.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel made a strong demand that vaccines should be provided at the same rates for both the Centre and the States.
Serum Institute of India has announced that it would be providing the Covishield vaccine, which it currently sells to the Centre at ₹150-200 per dose,to private entities.
“Please provide an action plan for vaccine availability to the States for running vaccination drive for,” Mr. Baghel at the meeting.