States to seek special package for poor, higher testing

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold the first round of meeting with chief ministers on Tuesday to assess the current situation amid the coronavirus pandemic. States are likely to seek enhanced focus on testing of people and a special package with direct cash transfer to the poor.

State governments feel, with the opening up of economic activity, the number of cases of coronavirus may increase. The 21 states, which are meeting PM Modi in the first round, have a total of more than 19,000 cases with over 130 deaths. State governments believe that while the situation is under some control, more testing should be conducted.

All union territories, northeast states, hill states like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and opposition-ruled states including Punjab, Jharkhand, Kerala and Chhattisgarh will meet Modi on Tuesday.

“There is a view that with the return of migrants, our total case numbers may see a spike. One of the first priority is that we should get one robust testing centre in every district as also better access to PPE (personal protective equipment) kits and ventilators,” a senior minister from Jharkhand said requesting anonymity.

The minister said they have been raising the issue of direct financial assistance for poor, farmers and migrant labourers. “A package that gives them immediate relief, not loans, is necessary and Centre should ensure that. States too need more autonomy in this fight and therefore financial assistance should be given to states to take care of the economic fallout,” the minister added.

Tuesday will be the sixth round of meeting that Modi would hold with chief ministers ever since the pandemic spread in the country. The first meeting was held on 20 March. India is unlocking its economy in phases started 8 June allowing more economic activity in order to spur consumer spending. States feel that there is need for a staggered withdrawal from the lockdown and maintaining a fine balance between opening up of economic activities and doing more tests.

Meanwhile, a senior Congress leader from party-ruled Chhattisgarh said, requesting anonymity, “Centre announced a package but applied conditions to lending for states. Our key demand in the meeting is going to be that states like ours should be allowed the additional borrowing limit of 2% of GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) free of any conditions. Our earlier demand of giving states financial assistance still remains.”

Last month, union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced raising of borrowing limits for states for the current fiscal from 3% of GSDP to 5% but linked it with introducing specific reforms, such as one-nation-one-ration-card, ease of doing business, power distribution, and urban local body revenues – a move that has been opposed by key opposition parties

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[Source: live Mint]

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