The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has announced an extension of the nationwide lockdown till May 31. This is the third extension to the lockdown imposed in the country to control the coronavirus pandemic. In this version, dubbed ‘Lockdown 4.0’ several concessions in restrictions are expected to be announced to reduce the burden on industries, traders and the common man.
Detailed guidelines are expected to be issued later, and the Union Home Secretary will be chairing a meeting with other Chief Secretaries at 9 pm on Friday.
“Considering the fact that the lockdown measures need to be implemented for a further period in the country to contain the spread of COVID 19, NDMA, in exercise of powers under Section 6 (2) (i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, hereby directs the Ministries/ Departments of Government of India, State Government and State Authorities to continue the lockdown measures upto 31st May, 2020,” an order by the NDMA stated. Section 6 (2) (i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 empowers the national authority to take measures for the prevention of disaster, mitigation or preparedness and capacity building for dealing with the situation as necessary
The NDMA also directed the National Executive Committee (NEC) to issue modifications in the guidelines as necessary, keeping in view the need to open up economic activities while containing the spread of COVID-19.
The fourth lockdown comes at a time when the total number of cases in the country has crossed 92,000 as of Friday.
The first lockdown was imposed on March 24 when there were only 564 cases across India and nearly all services and industries were forced to a grinding halt.
India’s rail, airline and port networks were completely suspended as well - both passenger and freight operations, for the first time in 167 years.
To enforce the lockdown, states across the country used the service of their police forces. Several video footages of police brutality emerged from all corners of the country. Those found flouting the lockdown measures were either thrashed, their vehicles seized or penalised under sections of the Epidemics Act.
Even as this lockdown period inched to an end, on April 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an extension till May 3. Conditional relaxation was however promised based on the severity of the infection in various areas. In mid-April, the Centre further announced that cities and districts will be classified as red, orange or green zones based on the number of cases.
The government also issued guidelines for inter-state travel, but the rules did not take into consideration the lakhs of migrant labourers stranded with no option of public transport service decided to walk to their home states. Several migrant labourers ended up walking to their states.
On May 1, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced yet another extension for two weeks till May 17, with more relaxations for areas with few or no cases. In this period, areas with no cases reported for 21 days (green zones) and areas with very few scattered cases (orange zones) were allowed to function with few restrictions. Public transportation remained closed. However, flights and special trains were announced to help migrants return to their hometowns.
The third lockdown was marred by visuals of thousands of migrants taking to the road to walk back to their hometowns after they ran out of food and money to sustain themselves.
On May 11, in the fifth meeting chaired between Chief Ministers of all states and the Prime Minister, several of the state heads sought more autonomy to decide their own lockdown strategies. The Chief Ministers of several states, such as Telangana, West Bengal and Punjab, expressed their openness to extend the lockdown beyond May 17. States like Maharashtra, Telangana and Punjab have already extended the lockdown in their states till the end of May.
The Chief Ministers of states like Kerala and Andhra Pradesh expressed their willingness to reopen public transport in their states but with physical distancing measures in place. The Karnataka CM even sought to do away with the concept of red, orange and green zones and instead go for containment zones, limited to a certain locality. The state wanted to resume commercial activities, including public transport, in non-containment zones.