NEW DELHI :
Odisha on Thursday became the first state to extend the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of covid-19, just two days ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief ministers to take a call on whether to order an extension of nationwide restrictions.
The decision of the Biju Janata Dal government led by Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik to extend the lockdown till 30 April, came against the backdrop of many states demanding an extension of the lockdown by at least 15 days.
The three-week national lockdown imposed by the Centre is scheduled to end on 14 April. During a meeting between Modi and parliamentarians on Wednesday, the prime minister indicated it could be extended as reports received by the Union government indicated it was difficult to lift it nationwide in one go.
“We had to make a difficult decision between lives and livelihood/business. We took the difficult decision to save lives of people in the current situation. It’s a priority,” Patnaik said in a video message to the people of Odisha on Thursday.
The decision was announced after the state cabinet meeting on Thursday.
Odisha reported its first case in mid-March and by Thursday morning had 42 positive case, including a death, Patnaik said. Agriculture, animal husbandry and employment under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme will be facilitated during the extended lockdown period, he said.
“While doing this we have to ensure adequate social distancing,” Patnaik added.
Educational institutions will remain closed till 17 June, the chief minister tweeted. He also urged the Centre not to resume train and air services till 30 April.
Political analysts said that the process of deciding whether to lift or extend the lockdown reflects India’s federated structure.
“States have a bigger role to play than the Union government. While the Union government has more of a policy and advisory role, states have the responsibility of implementation. The way the prime minister is consulting state leaders, chief ministers, chiefs of all parties, parliamentarians and civil society members, it has to be said that the handling of the entire crisis has lent strength to the federal structure of the country. We have an unprecedented challenge and we have together risen against it,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
Senior leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Opposition Congress party said that the first step toward building a consensus over extending the lockdown was the all-party meeting called by Modi and the final step will be the meeting with chief ministers.
“This is not about politics. All political parties and everyone is together in this health problem. The situation in the country and in the world is worse than a war. At least in war we know who our enemy is but now we have a situation that our family member or friend could be infected by the virus and we unknowingly also get transmitted. The only option before the government is increase the lockdown. It is our safest option,” said a senior Samajwadi Party based in Lucknow who said that the party is supporting an extension of the lockdown in the country.