The Maharashtra government is holding internal discussions to further extend the current lockdown in the state, highly placed sources in the government told NewsClick, adding that despite various sections making demands to give some relaxations, the state machinery is not ready to take risk.
The move to extend the lockdown may provoke business classes to go against the state government. But after the experience of relaxation in restrictions last year, the state government trying to avert more public activities.
Maharashtra was the first state to declare a lockdown in the second wave of the pandemic. The state has been under lockdown since April 14. The public movement is largely restricted. Only grocery shops and essentially services are allowed. From saloons to jewellers, showrooms of non essential things to malls, theatres are closed in the state. This has been second consecutive summer where restricts due to covid-19 has taken huge hit on the businesses of state.
President of Vyapari Mahasangh (Traders Association), Fatehchand Ranka has written a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray requesting him to allow to open shops at least for some times in a day. “Already 56 days have passed in lockdown. The business has taken a hit. We are failing to clear salaries of employees. There is zero income. Traders are already in unprecedented financial crisis. So, the state government should not extent the lockdown,” he said.
Ranka also said that traders across the state were ready to follow all strictest conditions including social distancing. “We will not make things complicated for the government. The fear of infection is everywhere. But the government should also think about the business. If generation of money stops, everything will come to a halt,” he said.
As per Ranka, traders in the state have lost about 75 thousand crore rupees in the 56 days due to lockdown. The extension of lockdown would further increase the scale of losses. "Traders would not be able to stand these losses hereafter. The financial situation will turn grim and out of hand if the state does not change the policy," said Ranka.
But the state government feels that the lowering numbers in cities like Mumbai, Pune, Thane, and Nasik are the result of the lockdown, in absence of which, the infection may rise again.
“The vaccinatipn drive is slow. People would be exposed to the virus if the lockdown restrictions are lifted. So, senior officers and ministers are of the opinion to extend it at least till June 15,” said a senior officer in the home department.
The vaccination drive has slowed down due to the lack of vaccines. As per the state government, 2 crore 13 lakh persons in the state have received the first dose of the vaccine. However, people who received both doses are just 44,31,707.
Mumbai suburban guardian minister Aslam Shaikh talking about lockdown in the city gave similar indications. “At least 50% of Mumbai should be vaccinated before opening up. So the decision regarding the lockdown will be taken accordingly,” he said. However, this was strictly about Mumbai.
Maharashtra has still more than 6% positivity rate in 18 districts. Looking at the constant rise in Covid-19 patients, the state government has closed down the policy of home isolation in these districts. Also, the state directed district collectors to strictly implement the lockdown rules.
As per the Uddhav Thackeray-led government, the state has around 23,70,00 home quarantine patients and 19,943 institutional quarantine patients. As many as 3,15,042 are under treatment for Covid-19 in hospitals and various Covid-19 centres. The total number of deaths in the state are 91,341. This is the highest death toll in India.
Meanwhile, the state has also issued orders to extend the Shiv Bhojan scheme, where a meal is provided for Rs 5, till June 14. These are also indications about extension of the present lockdown.
Not just major traders, but smaller sellers like hawkers, street vendors and similar sections are also worried about the extension of lockdown. Various hawkers’ unions in Maharashtra are demanding financial assistance from the state government.
"The state has given Rs 4,000 to registered hawkers. But that is not enough. Also, there are more unregistered hawkers than registered ones. The state has to take care of all of them," said veteran trade unionist and leader of hawkers, Shankar Salavi.
Sources have also informed NewsClick that CM Thackeray is firm this time to not buckle under pressure. "Last time, the opposition party through various of its unions put pressure on the CM to lift the restrictions. But this time, there is fear of third wave in July-August. Opening up activities in June may pre-pone that wave. So, the CM is more careful this time," said a senior state minister on condition of anonymity.
This is a catch-22 situation for the state. Maharashtra is one of the most industrial states. So, closing down of economic activities is badly hurting the economy. On the other hand, the state is still having one of the highest number of daily patients and deaths due to Covid-19. How government will find the middle ground is to be seen hereafter.