Chandigarh, May 11 (Punjab Mail)- Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday pitched for extension of the lockdown, but with a carefully crafted strategy, backed by fiscal and economic empowerment of the states, to save lives and secure livehood.

Clearly favouring continuation of a strict lockdown, in view of the escalating cases of Covid nationwide, the Chief Minister said at the Video Conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that states needed to be given greater flexibility in micro-planning as part of a carefully planned exit strategy, encompassing both Covid containment and a defined path of economic revival.

The Exit Strategy should consider and focus on fiscal and economic empowerment of the States, which are responsible for the real action directly impinging upon the livelihood and social health of the common man, said the Chief Minister, suggesting that States should be allowed great flexibility in micro-planning, with MSMEs to be allowed to function in Red Zone districts with proper safeguards. The decision on designating the red, orange/yellow and green zones should be left to the states, which were more cognizant of the ground realities, he said.

Captain Amarinder demanded urgent financial assistance to States to meet at least 33% of their committed liabilities, along with revenue grants to the states for 3 months to meet shortfall in revenue and to fund expenditure on Covid-19.

The Punjab Chief Minister also called for a National Strategy on Covid Testing for making the battle against Covid more effective, pointing out that he had also written to the Prime Minister to direct Central Government institutions in Chandigarh and Punjab to increase testing capacity. Punjab had so far done 40,962 tests done so far, with current testing rate at 2500 per day, which the state government planned to scale up to 6000 by end of the month.

Pointing out that Punjab had procured 115 Lakh MT of Wheat, with proper social distancing and hygiene protocols in place, the Chief Minister also requested for early declaration of MSP on Paddy and a bonus on non-burning of paddy stubble.

The Chief Minister informed the Prime Minister that Punjab was losing Rs 3000 crore per month in revenue (totally 88% of the estimated revenue loss recorded in April), along with Rs 30 crore daily loss for Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd (a decline of 30%). He also reiterated his demand for immediate release of the Punjab’s GST arrears of Rs. 4365.37 crore.

Further, said the Chief Minister, in view of the complete change in the situation due to the pandemic, the 15th Finance Commission should review its report for the current year, and recommend devolution of funds for 5-years beginning from 1.4.2021 (instead of 2020) onwards after factoring in the impact of COVID-19, for which the term of the Commission should be extended by another year.

Captain Amarinder also urged the Prime Minister to increase the borrowing limit under the Financial Responsibility and Budget Management Act 2005 (FRBM Act) from 3% to 4% of SGDP to enable states to meet their fiscal liabilities.

The Punjab Government had been fighting the Covid battle from the front, and had successfully brought down the mortality rate in the state to 1.8%, while containing the doubling rate at  around 7 days against national average of 11 days, the Chief Minister pointed out during the meeting. The rate of increase was falling after having risen sharply in the last 10 days came due to the  large number of persons who tested positive from returnees from other States, he said, expressing the confidence that the situation should improve further in the coming week.

With four containment zones, Punjab currently has 1823 positive cases (2.75% of All-India cases), with 31 deaths (1.40% of All-India deaths), translating into Mortality Rate of 1.70%.

In terms of inbound movement of stranded people, the Chief Minister disclosed that around 56,000 persons from Punjab stranded in other states had registered with his government, with around 20,000 Indian nationals returning from other countries. The State Government had made elaborate arrangements made for quarantine and testing.

For outbound transportation,  11.50 lakh migrants had registered (mainly in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, & Amritsar) and largely bound for UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, said Captain Amarinder, adding that 50 trains with such migrants had already left, and on average, 13-14 trains were leaving daily.