Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a Rs 20-trillion economic package to “make India self-reliant” and ready to "own the twentieth century".
"The economic package will focus on land, labour, liquidity, and law. It will help small businesses, migrants, farmers," said Modi in a televised address to the nation, a day after he told chief ministers of various states that the lockdown must be lifted gradually.
The package is aimed at undoing the devastating impact of the nationwide lockdown, first enforced on March 24 to contain the spread of coronavirus. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will announce details of the special economic package, close in value to 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), in the next few days.
India witnessed the biggest drop in industrial production yet with output crashing by 16.7 per cent in March, as factories shuttered down towards the month-end due to the nationwide lockdown, government data showed on Tuesday.
Modi said a final decision on extending the lockdown will be announced before May 18. “In Lockdown 4.0, we will follow norms, fight Covid-19 and move ahead,” he said.
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An indication that the lockdown would be eased gradually came when Indian Railways opened bookings for passenger services on Tuesday, with 15 trains a day connecting Delhi to Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and other big cities.
Rail, road and air services were suspended in the country on March 24 to prevent infections from spreading into the country’s interior. But the number of new daily cases has continued to rise. Health ministry officials have, however, said repeatedly that the spread of the disease would be worse without the lockdown.
India had 70,756 coronavirus cases and 2,293 deaths from the disease, according to the numbers released by the health ministry on Tuesday morning. The rising infection numbers are also the result of more testing of late. Testing in the country has grown from 2,000 a day in late March to 85,000 to 90,000 a day now, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the government’s top body leading the fight against the disease.
Political parties, businesses, and citizens say the lockdown has destroyed the livelihoods of millions that rely on daily wages for sustenance. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had said on Monday that the economic situation was “very bad” and the government would announce a financial package in a couple of days.