Spraying of disinfectant inside the houses at Aggar Nagar Enclave in Ludhiana. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)
An office order by the Department of General Administration (GAD), which is headed by the state chief secretary and is part of the CM’s portfolio, stated Wednesday that the state has decided to extend curfew till April 30. Sent into a tizzy, the government revoked the order in no time, with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh denying that any such decision had been taken.
“No decision has yet been taken on extending the curfew in the state beyond April 14,” the CM said. A decision in this regard will be taken after the Cabinet meeting scheduled for April 10, an official release quoting the chief minister said.
Before the CM stepped in, the GAD, in its order to all heads of departments, Registrar Punjab and Haryana High Court, Divisional Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners and SDMs asked them to extend the work from home provision till April 30.
The order stated that the government had decided to extend the curfew till then.
As soon as the order was signed by the superintendent of the department, it went viral on social media and TV channels also broadcast it. The government then had to withdraw the order and give clarification that there was no such order issued.
Sources in the government said the General Administration Department had jumped the gun. While the government was mulling extending the curfew in view of spiralling cases of COVID-19, the final announcement would be made after taking the Cabinet ministers into confidence.
The CM clarified that the speculation on the curfew extension was triggered by an advisory to employees from the General Administration Department on a series of matters relating to the current situation. The said advisory had subsequently been withdrawn by the chief secretary on his directives, he said in a statement.
“The state government is continuously assessing and reviewing the evolving situation, which is changing day to day, and any decision would be taken in the context of the conditions prevailing around mid-April, keeping in mind the overall interest of the state and its people,” said Amarinder.
He added: “Though pandemic is currently in control in Punjab, nothing could be predicted at the moment, given the ever-changing dynamics of the situation. All the factors would be taken into account before coming to a final decision on extending or lifting the curfew, either fully or partially,”
Underlining that it was an evolving situation, he added: “We are keeping a close watch on the situation, not just in Punjab but across the country. We are also taking into account the way the pandemic is behaving in other countries so that we can imbue their learning and act accordingly.”
He reiterated that saving lives was the top priority of his government at the moment and whatever decision is taken will be centered around that, seeing how the pandemic shapes up in the state in the coming days. Punjab was the first state in the country which had imposed a curfew on March 23 to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
Punjab was the first state in the country which had imposed a curfew on March 23 to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. (Express photo/Gurmeet Singh)
CM dials opposition
The CM, meanwhile, called up SAD’s Prakash Singh Badal and Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, AAP’s Harpal Singh Cheema (Leader of Opposition in Vidhan Sabha) and CPI’s Hardev Singh Arshi to discuss the way forward. All leaders are learnt to have backed government’s line of action, though SAD suggested more food packets being made available through state machinery.
While thanking the CM for his phone call, AAP’s Harpal Singh Cheema said it cannot replace an all-party meeting. “The opposition is ready to cooperate with the government on all welfare issues regarding coronavirus, but the government must do more than just phone calls,” he said.
Capt speaks to party MLAs
Amarinder also held a video-conference with Congress MLAs led by state party chief Sunil Jakhar.
A statement by the government said that the Punjab Congress has given the CM complete authority to take any decision. During his discussion with Congress MLAs, Amarinder said that there has been a sudden spike in cases in Punjab as a result of the Tabligi Jamaat incident of Nizamuddin (Delhi), from where 573 people had come to the state.
The CM on Wednesday also announced a taskforce to find ways for the state to gradually get out of the unprecedented lockdown. Addressing a video-conference with leading industrialists, he assured the industry of all support by the government to address critical issues and challenges in this difficult time. The taskforce is likely to have industry representatives.
While seeking the industry’s suggestions on the way forward, invited them to be part of the government’s decision-making process. Among the various issues raised by industry leaders was the demand for declaring tractors and ancillary industries as essential and allowing them reopen to meet the urgent needs of farmers in the rabi harvesting and marketing season. Another suggestion that came up was to allow the packaging industry to resume operations, given its importance in ensuring streamlined operations of essential commodities. Other suggestions from the industry related to revival of air cargo services to Chandigarh, as well as incentives to health and medical start-ups in the state. The pharmaceutical industry raised closure of inter-state transport in Jammu and Kashmir, and restrictions to movement of goods and labour from Haryana. The CM has directed the Industry Department to take urgent notice of these issues and resolve them at the earliest.
The Centre has not yet allowed Punjab’s proposal for opening of construction and other industries. So far only the industries engaged in manufacturing of essential items are allowed. The CM had written to the MHA asking them to allow work at construction sites and roads besides other industries. But Centre has not allowed it yet, Punjab Home Secretary Satish Chandra said.