PM Modi relaxes SDRF cap to help states fight virus

States can dip further into their disaster relief funds, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a meeting with the chief ministers of the seven states hit hardest by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, while also urging them to consider whether intermittent lockdowns help or are coming in the way of restarting economic activity.

The Prime Minister held a video conference with the CMs of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Punjab – regions that the Union health ministry said together account for at least 63% of active cases and 77% of fatalities due to the viral disease.

For Covid-19, all states can use up to 50% of their state disease relief fund (SDRF), up from a cap of 35% set in April. “Because of this decision the states will get more money to fight Covid 19,” the Prime Minister said, according to the text of his speech released by the government.

The Union government has in all allocated ₹11,902 crore as SDRF to all states, as per recommendations of the Finance Commission. Several states have of late flagged to the Union government shortage in funds, particularly due to delayed payments of the Goods and Services (GST) compensation due to a slump in tax collections.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Union health ministry made a presentation where it said Maharashtra, Punjab and Delhi have seen higher deaths with the case fatality rate (the proportion of deaths as per confirmed cases) above 2%, officials said.

The Prime Minister and the CMs discussed several issues and shared notes about their economic recovery. The leaders of Karnataka and Punjab flagged potential shortages of oxygen cylinders.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister said the state’s tax collections in August had climbed back to levels in the corresponding period last year.

Economic recovery was among the key areas of discussions, with the PM recommending the states follow a ‘micro containment zones’ strategy. “The nationwide lockdown in the initial phases yielded very positive results and our focus now should be on micro-containment zones,” he said.

The PM also asked the states to take a relook at whether intermitted lockdowns help in controlling spread of Covid. “Is it because of this reason that starting of economic activities in your state is facing problems?” the PM asked.

Some states such as Punjab and Uttar Pradesh implemented weekend lockdowns and West Bengal shut down on two consecutive days in a week. Chhattisgarh has gone for a longer lockdown of 10 days in 14 districts.

Overall, the PM said states must further enhance their focus on effective testing, tracing, treatment, surveillance and clear messaging to curb the pandemic.

“Some people even make the mistake of undermining the seriousness of the disease,” Modi said, while pitching for the need of an effective messaging especially with regard to use of masks.

Prime Minister Modi said it has to be ensured that medicines move unhindered from one state to another and noted that India has also been able to supply medicines across the world during such hard times.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh sought adequate supplies of medical oxygen from other states and release of ₹200 crore of the next tranche of central aid for Covid management.

The chief minister said that with no manufacturers of medical oxygen, the state was dependent largely on three big manufacturers for liquid oxygen in Himachal and Haryana.

India has over 5.7 million coronavirus cases and more than 90,000 deaths, and is the nation second worst-hit in the world after the US.

Over the last 24 hours, 86,941 new cases were reported.

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