New Delhi: India’s urban centres will see an extension of the lockdown at least until the end of the month but the government also wants to ensure that the engines of the economy start turning—by making exemptions for agriculture, factories and the transport of goods.

The next phase of the lockdown starting April 15 is expected to ensure that harvests and procurement of produce take place without any hindrance, said people with knowledge of the matter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to have suggested a “lock-in” for factories with workers staying onsite and maintaining social distancing. The Centre is contemplating measures to bring migrant workers from camps to their factories, possibly by running special buses or trains.

Cargo movement of all kinds of goods will be allowed across the country, as will fishing.

States’ Revenues Plunge 50-75%

The distinction between transport of essential and non-essential goods that’s causing confusion on the ground will be done away with. Industries will be opened “subject to public health concerns,” said the people cited above.

This is expected to get the economy moving while strict restrictions remain in place in large urban areas such as Delhi and Mumbai for the general public. The current three-week lockdown is scheduled to end on April 14 and an announcement about what shape it will take after that is expected soon.

“The form of the lockdown from April 15 will be different. Activity in some areas will be relaxed,” Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan said on Sunday. The “nearunanimous view” at the Prime Minister’s meeting with chief ministers on Saturday was that lifting the lockdown was not feasible given the rising number of infections cases and deaths, he said. More than 360 districts in the country have people with coronavirus infections, up significantly from the previous week.

Amid falling revenues and funds drying up, states face a tough balancing act between saving lives and reviving the economy, officials said. Madhya Pradesh, for example, hasn’t paid inflation-linked dearness allowance to its employees. Others have deferred pay. Chief ministers told the PM that revenue has dropped 50-75% over the past month.

Six opposition-ruled states–Delhi, Maharashtra, Telangana, West Bengal, Punjab and Odisha-–have already announced lockdown extension until the end of April. All the BJP-ruled states are also in agreement with extending the lockdown but have left it to the Centre to decide on the matter, senior central government officials told ET. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has formed a committee to look at ways in which development work can resume while social distancing norms are followed. Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have told the Prime Minister that states should be allowed to decide the parameters of any relaxation.

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A key theme that has emerged is restarting industry while observing a lockdown for the general public, officials said. This involves identifying industries that can house their workers until the end of April, through what the PM termed in the Saturday meeting as a “lock-in” strategy.

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal said the state has divided regions into red, orange and green zones depending upon the number of cases. This will determine the extent of the relaxation. The economic hub of Gurgaon is among those in the red zone, which means that maximum containment will remain in place in the district.

Farming and harvesting will continue in all zones with produce being procured from the doorstep of farmers and free movement for the transport of crops. The marine and aquaculture sector will be exempted. The Centre told all states on Sunday to allow movement of goods of all kinds and said godowns and cold storages can store any item.

Major metros and state capitals such as Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Indore, Gurgaon, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Bengaluru, which have seen a high number of cases, are unlikely to see any major relaxations.

“Mumbai and Delhi are now reporting the highest number of infected cases… Both metros are under heavy containment. Pune is also a major worry,” a senior central government official said when asked if any relaxation will be allowed in the three cities. Ahmedabad and the Madhya Pradesh financial hub of Indore are also seen as hot spots.

The resurgence of coronavirus cases in China, Japan and South Korea is a cause of concern for India, said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry, at the daily briefing on Sunday.

“We have to ensure our social distancing and containment measures are there as any relaxation in the same can reduce our effect and output,” Agarwal said.

This government is considering insurance cover for agricultural workers, truck drivers transporting cargo and those employed in essential industries, said the people cited above.

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