Lockdown norms to be relaxed partially in Delhi from Monday
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday announced that the construction sector in the city and factories can resume operations from Monday.
This announcement marks the beginning of the scaling down process of the ongoing lockdown imposed on April 19 to curb an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases. It has been extended at least five times so far.
“In one month, we have controlled this wave to a large extent. In the last 24 hours, around 1,100 new cases were recorded and the positivity rate was around 1.5%. Currently, there is no shortage of hospital beds, ICU beds and oxygen. So, we have to start the un-lockdown process. We should ensure that we don’t land in a position in which people survive Covid-19 but die of poverty,” said Kejriwal in a video press briefing streamed live on Friday.
At its peak, Delhi recorded 28,395 cases on April 20 and a positivity rate of more than 36% on April 22. A full lockdown was imposed in Delhi on April 19.
Kejriwal further said, “The ongoing lockdown will apply till 5am Monday. And then the un-lockdown process will start. The decision was taken today in the meeting of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA).”
DDMA is chaired by lieutenant governor Anil Baijal; Kejriwal is its vice-chairperson .
“In the un-lockdown process, our priority will be the weakest economic sections. So, we will start with labourers, especially migrant labourers. Most of them are engaged either in the construction sector or in factories. So, we will open these two sectors from this Monday. But we have to remember that the fight against Covid-19 is still not over. We have to make sure that things do not go bad again. So, the relaxations have to happen in a phased way,” said Kejriwal.
Under the ongoing lockdown regulations, there is a complete ban on all economic activities, with exceptions for people, institutes and enterprises engaged in delivery of essential goods and services. Under the currently applicable norms, factories across the city, except those engaged in the manufacture of face masks, hand sanitisers, and other Covid-19 protection-related goods, are prohibited from functioning. Similarly, there is a ban on construction activities too, with an exemption for those which have provision for accommodating labourers on site in adherence to social distancing and other hygiene standards necessary for protection against Covid-19.
Kejriwal also said, “Now, week after week we will widen the phased relaxation process on the basis of public opinion and experts’ opinion. But if Covid-19 cases start increasing, we will have to stop all economic activities again. So, I urge people to adhere to all regulations and strictly follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. That is the only way to control Covid-19. Don’t step out unless it is necessary. We are not in favour of a lockdown. We are aware of its negative implications. So, we don’t want that to happen again.”
Construction sector and factory workers’ unions in the city welcomed the move as a “relief” but said that Delhi is likely to face a labour shortage in the coming days because a large number of migrant labourers who left the city during the lockdown are unlikely to return anytime soon.
“The un-lockdown initiative will bring big relief to lakhs of workers engaged in Delhi’s factories. But a large number of people has already left and they are not likely to come back any time soon. The disease has affected them and their families back in villages. Most of them have run out of money too. They are unlikely to return to Delhi without a guaranteed job,” said Rajesh Kumar, general secretary (Delhi) of Indian Federation of Trade Unions.
Thaneshwar Adigaur, convener of Nirmal Majdoor Adhikar Abhiyan, a joint forum of 40 construction sector labour unions in Delhi, said: “Then there is fear of another potential wave of Covid-19. Also, children of migrant labourers no longer have to attend physical classes in the public schools any time soon. So, those who have left for villages are likely to be there for a few more months. However, for the construction workers who stayed back and those who plan to return, the announced relaxation will be a big relief.”
Two separate reports published in HT last week said more than 800,000 migrant labourers left Delhi for their home states in buses from the three interstate bus terminals in the first four weeks of the lockdown and the government kept no record of those who left in trains during the same period. Also, a large number of them are affected by the virus which is spreading in villages across states. Many of them either cannot immediately leave family members who are recovering, or are out of money, and lack a security net in the absence of a job guarantee and fear another potential wave of Covid-19 in the coming days. So, a large number of them is unlikely to return any time soon even if the lockdown is lifted.
Neeraj Sehgal, a factory owner and general secretary of the industrial area welfare body in Delhi’s Mayapuri, said: “Factory owners too are in bad shape and, hence, they are unlikely to expand their workforce beyond a point. In the next three months, production capacity is likely to remain under 50% because of the financial losses caused by the pandemic. It would be great if the government considers relaxations for the industry sector too in terms of rent relaxation, tax relief and waiver on at least fixed charges on power and water.”