While advising a longer spell of lockdown on one side, KCR urged sparing the agriculture and food processing industries on the other.

Behind KCRs call for longer lockdown is also the surge in COVID-19 cases in MaharashtraImage for representation: PTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Monday, April 13, 2020 - 17:56

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) has been pitching for a longer spell of lockdown beyond April 14 to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 threat in his home state. Of course, he has strong reasons to do so. A spike in coronavirus deaths — 11 fatal cases in the neighbouring Maharashtra in a single day on Saturday, coinciding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference with Chief Ministers — obviously becomes a cause for concern for KCR. As of April 12, Maharashtra has reported 2,064 coronavirus positive cases with 149 deaths.

The stretch of inter-state border between Telangana and Maharashtra runs for over 500 km through Nizamabad and Adilabad. People living in the border districts have close family and trade relations with those on the other side, necessitating routine travel via road and navigation through the Indravati and Pranahita rivers. The borders are such that a train originating from Hyderabad and bound for Adilabad has to pass through patches of Maharashtra for 5-6 hours. This obviously poses a risk of the contagion entering Telangana from the north.

The country’s youngest southern state continues to witness a rapid increase in the coronavirus positive cases – as on Sunday, there have been 503 cases while 14 persons have lost their lives to the disease. Fears over further spread of the contagion has also led to sealing off several containment clusters across Hyderabad with 12% of COVID-19 cases in the state being from the state capital.

In anticipation of the prospects of inter-state spread of the virus, KCR ordered the closure of inter-state borders with a stress on the highways connecting Telangana and Maharashtra and other navigation routes as well.

Umbilical cord that connects Telangana-Maharashtra

Although the Marathwada region was separated from Hyderabad State for a merger with Maharashtra in the course of the annexation of Hyderabad State with the Indian Union, the umbilical cord connecting the two regions of the erstwhile Hyderabad State still continues to exist for different reasons.

People from both the states depend on turmeric, cotton and onion trade. Parts of Maharashtra are rich in onion production. Maharashtra is a major supplier of onion to Telangana. One of the largest markets for turmeric trade in the country is located in Telangana’s Nizamabad and turmeric farmers from Maharashtra frequent Nizamabad to sell their produce.

The areas in Maharashtra dotted with cotton mills such as Sholapur, Nanded, Lathur, Malegaon and Parbhani harbour a large number of settlers from Telangana, who migrated to these parts to work in cotton mills long ago. Similarly, Hyderabad drew an influx of migrants, including labourers and traders, from Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, the dust over the impact of the Tablighi Jamaat religious gathering over the spread of coronavirus in Telangana is yet to settle. Health Minister Eetela Rajendra on April 10 went on record that 85% of COVID-19 cases reported in the state were linked to the Nizamuddin Markaz gathering. While as many as 1,200 people have been traced, including attendees, their family members and those who came in contact with them, 1,654 persons have been put under quarantine.

Also read: How empathy instead of hate helped south states trace Jamaat attendees

State economy bears the brunt of COVID-19

In fact, any extension of the lockdown is certain to have a debilitating impact on the state’s economy. “Still it (lockdown) is inevitable. We cannot bring back the lives the virus has claimed but we can recover from its impact on the economy in due course of time,” KCR said at a media conference.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already begun to show its deadly impact on the state’s tax revenues. The actual collections under the tax and non-tax revenue heads the state expected to receive in April is abysmally low, as low as Rs 100 crore in comparison to the receipts of Rs 4,000 crore during the corresponding period in the previous fiscal, it is reported. In a bid to overcome the drastic fall in revenues and rescue people from COVID-19 crisis, the KCR government resorted to 50% cuts in salaries of government employees and pensioners.

While advising a longer spell of lockdown on one side, KCR urged sparing the agriculture and food processing industries on the other. Relaxation of lockdown is essential for rural areas during the harvest season. Paddy harvest will be at its peak during April-May and Telangana is set to harvest a bumper crop of 1crore tonne in the current rabi season. The surge in paddy cultivation from 17 lakh acres to 39 lakh acres is attributed to the government’s initiatives for increasing the area under irrigation through the Mission Kakatiya and Kaleswaram projects.

“It’s a time for celebration as our irrigation flagship schemes are set to yield results. But this coronavirus has dampened our festive spirits,” KCR lamented.

The Telangana government has assured farmers that it will procure their whole produce through 7,000-odd paddy procurement centres by guaranteeing minimum support price. But S Malla Reddy, a spokesman for the Telangana Rytu Sangham, expressed doubts over the government’s procurement claims, citing past experiences.

Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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