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Many States have appealed for its continuation in the face of rise in COVID cases

The Union government on Tuesday indicated that it was actively considering an extension of the 21-day nationwide lockdown that began on March 25 and is due to end on April 14, as many States have openly appealed for its continuation as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

While Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhara Rao had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to extend the lockdown on Monday, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday echoed the plea.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also called for a phased withdrawal of the lockdown, saying that saving lives was important.

In an interview to The Hindu, Chhattisgarh Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo said, “I feel people have got used to the lockdown. We should take advantage of that and deal conservatively with the question of lifting the lockdown. Certainly, borders of States should remain closed although activities within districts are on to some extent. A conservative estimate and looking at the expected spike in cases, we must go for another 14 days of lockdown at least.”

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is understood to have conveyed to the Prime Minister during a videoconference last week that the lockdown should not be lifted all of a sudden and that it should be done in three to four phases. “There should be a partial lifting in a graded and calibrated manner. Allow farmers to harvest their crops but keep schools and colleges closed. Allow scooters and two-wheelers to ply first,” a senior Punjab government official said.

Move comes hours after Trump warned of ‘retaliation’

India on Tuesday announced that it had rescinded its earlier ban on the export of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which is now being used in countries such as the U.S. as a possible line of treatment for COVID-19.

“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities. We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations that have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.

In a notification on March 25, the government placed HCQ on a restricted items list, and then put a blanket ban on any export of the drug on April 4. The latest decision, which was taken at a high-level meeting on April 6, effectively overturns the previous notification.

The MEA announcement came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump said that India could invite “retaliation” if it withheld supplies of HCQ, for which the U.S., Brazil and other countries have already placed advance orders.

“I spoke to [PM Modi] yesterday, a good talk. I would be surprised [if India refused to supply HCQ] because India does very well by the U.S. For many years they have been taking advantage of the United States on trade… I spoke to him and said, we appreciate your allowing the supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it come out, that would be OK, but, of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?” Mr. Trump said at a press conference in Washington. He also told reporters in a separate briefing that the U.S. already had a national stockpile of about 29 million capsules of HCQ.

Increasing the number of ‘mandis’ would not help due to labour shortage during lockdown restrictions, they say

Farmers harvesting mustard crop at a farm in Punjab.File photo

With wheat harvesting round the corner in the key grain producing States of Punjab and Haryana, farmers have urged the State governments to procure the grain from their fields amid the rising spread of COVID-19.

Bhartiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal) general secretary Harinder Singh on Tuesday said the government should directly lift the produce from their field or stores. “The Punjab government is proposing to increase the number of ‘mandis’ but it would not solve the problem. In view of the labour shortage, it will be a herculean task to swiftly lift the grain from these ‘mandis’ when the arrival picks up,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.

Mr. Singh said managing crowds (social distancing) would also not be an easy task there.

“Direct procurement will help the farmer and the government agencies in this hour of crises. The government should, however, pay the farmers an additional ₹100 per quintal for purchase between May 1 and 31 and another ₹100 per quintal for the wheat purchased between June 1 and 30 on account of storage, labour charges. These payments would be over and above the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of ₹1,925 per quintal,” he said.

He said to address the problem of shortage of labour, the work related to procurement of wheat should be included in the MGNREGA, which would to some extent help ease the process of procurement.

Jagjit Singh, State president of the BKU (Sidhupur), said storing the produce at home would mean additional burden on farmers. “Also, keeping harvested produce for long would mean guarding it from weather vagaries. Fire incidents during the harvesting season usually go up,” he said.

The government purchase of wheat — the main rabi crop — usually starts in the first week of April in Punjab and Haryana.

This year, the Haryana government has announced that procurement will commence from April 20, while Punjab has decided to start it from April 15.

Kewal Singh, a farmer in Punjab’s Mansa who has sown wheat in 20 acres, said the restrictions during the lockdown have increased his worries about harvesting and sale of the crop. “The government is going for staggered procurement but this will only increase the risk and cost for me, putting additional financial burden. We should be adequately compensated.”

Wheat procurement in Punjab will be arranged in about 5,000 purchase centres, by appointment for every farmer on given days. The centres will be provided with all arrangements required to prevent the spread of the pandemic, with full facilities for food, water, shelter and healthcare. To ensure timely payment to the farmers, it has been decided that payments shall be made to the Arhtiyas (commission agents) within 48 hours and they will, in turn, pay the farmers within the next 48 hours.

Staggered procurement

Haryana has also decided to go for staggered procurement. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said the number of purchase centres had been increased to 2,000 from 477 earlier.

Rattan Mann, president of the Haryana Bharatiya Kisan Union (Tikait), has also supported the mechanism of direct procurement of wheat from fields.

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