Rajnath Singh chairs meeting of Group of Ministers; discusses re-starting economic activity in non-containment zones after April 20

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh chaired a meeting of a Group of Ministers (GoM) at his residence on Saturday to discuss “ways to mitigate the hardships faced by the people and the role ministries can play in providing relief to people”. The GoM discussed re-starting economic activity in non-containment zones after April 20, in line with announcements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week.
The ministers also examined suggestions to re-enlist retired doctors and health professionals to boost medical capabilities in the war on the COVID-19 virus, as also calling on final-year medical students; the Assam government has already begun training students in treating coronavirus cases.
Piyush Goyal, Prakash Javadekar, Smriti Irani and Dharmendra Pradhan were in attendance. Also in attendance were Pralhad Joshi, Gajendra Singh Shekawat, Hardeep Puri, Ram Vilas Paswan and G Kishan Reddy.
“Interacted with the GoM on the COVID-19 situation. We discussed ways to mitigate the hardships faced by the people and the role ministries can play in providing relief to people. The guidelines to allow limited activities and the measures announced by RBI were also appreciated,” Rajnath Singh tweeted.
This is the fifth time that this Group of Ministers has met since a lockdown was imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month to break the chain of transmission of the infectious novel coronavirus.
The group, each member of which is in-charge of a state, worked with feedback from state governments and will recommend policy measures that will be submitted to the Prime Minister for further action.
Although the lockdown has been credited with saving lakhs of lives – the centre has claimed 8.2 lakh could have been infected otherwise – it has also hit the economy hard; the IMF (International Monetary Fund) has said it expects the economy to grow by only 1.9 per cent this year.
Among those most badly hit were lakhs of migrant workers across the country; the shuttering of economic activity, industries and interstate transport left them stranded far from home without money, forcing them to undertake punishing treks of hundreds of kilometres on foot.
Their condition triggered criticism from the opposition, with Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra among the fiercest critics demanding specific welfare measures to help poor people.
The centre, which last month said its response to the COVID-19 outbreak was “pre-emptive, pro-active and graded, has released a Rs 1.75 lakh crore package – the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana – for the economically weaker sections.
According to news agency PTI, the GoM on Saturday acknowledged that Rs 31,000 crore had been disbursed to beneficiaries under the aforementioned scheme.
On Friday too there was a GoM meeting – chaired by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. That meeting focused on management strategy for coronavirus hotspots and clusters and the availability of testing kits and PPE (personal protective equipment) in the country.
The Saturday’s Group of Ministers’ meeting comes two days after PM Modi met Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman over concerns about the state of the economy. The prolonged shutdown of industries and commercial establishments has affected lakhs, particularly the poorest in the country.
The manufacturing sector that was already under stress has been hit hard, as have banking and aviation. The latter sector is perilously close to bankruptcy, according to CAPA (Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation) and imperils 20 lakh jobs.
On Friday RBI (Reserve Bank of India) Governor Shaktikanta Das addressed the media to say the central bank would cut key interest rates in an effort to persuade banks to lend more money and kick-start the economy.
Last week, while announcing an extension to the lockdown, PM Modi also said restrictions would be eased for some industries, such as farming and agriculture-related activities and others in rural areas.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected a 1.9 per cent growth rate for India in 2020, while warning the global economy could shrink by as much as 3 per cent. The IMF has also said it expects India to grow by a healthy 7.4 per cent next year.