View from India: Public curfew and lockdown due to Covid-19

Coronavirus has led to big changes in India’s finance sector, as well as hitting everyday life.

The Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has announced that Union Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman will steward a ‘COVID-19 Economic Response Task Force.’ The Task Force has been initiated in response to the fact that the epidemic has resulted in an economic slowdown.

The FM has conducted meetings with the ministers of tourism, MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), civil aviation and animal husbandry to take stock of the impact of Covid-19 on these sectors. In all likelihood, an economic package will be rolled out for the affected sectors. Hopefully this can happen by relaxing the norms of non-performing assets, deferring tax payments and extending some sort of income support to the people working in the unorganised sector.

Covid-19 has brought out a first-of-its kind attempt in Indian banking. Reserve Bank of India (RBI) managed to put up its operations in a war-room at a city facility. This is part of its business contingency plan (BCP) and is manned by 90 employees.

As part of BCP, systems like the SFMS (Structured Financial Messaging System), RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlement) and NEFT (National Electronic Funds Transfer) are being operated by other RBI data centres. Services for the central and state governments' transactions which is e-Kuber and interbank transactions are its other functions. RBI is India's central banking institution, which controls the monetary policy of the Indian rupee.

Coming to the stocks and trading market, brokers and traders have been permitted by Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and National Stock Exchange (NSE) to take terminals outside authorised locations and work from home (WFH). This will go on till 30 April.

At another level, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has asked hand sanitiser production units to work in three shifts. Hand sanitiser producers have got assurance from the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) that ethanol and extra neutral alcohol (ENA) will be adequately supplied for the next two to three months. Appropriately so, as the demand for hand sanitisers scaled up with the Covid-19 outbreak. That’s how both ISMA and the All India Distilleries Association (AIDA) have been urged by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution to ensure ethanol and ENA are made available at a reasonable price to manufacturers of sanitisers until June.

The Government of India (GoI) has announced that private labs with NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories) accreditation for real-time PCR SA (polymerase chain reaction) for RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus are permitted to conduct tests for COVID-19. This has been notified by the Union Health Ministry.

PM had appealed to the 1.3 billion citizens of India to observe Janta (Public) Curfew on March 22, Sunday. This self-imposed quarantine is a collective fight against Covid-19

‘Stay indoors, stay healthy,’ PM tweeted minutes ahead of Janta Curfew, which began at 7am and ended at 9pm on Sunday 22 March. Given that it’s a public curfew, airlines like GoAir, IndiGo and Vistara have trimmed down their domestic operations. All passenger trains, metro and inter-state bus services have been suspended till 31 March.

Medical professionals, police, government servants, airline staff, media persons, bus/train/auto operators and those involved in home delivery services are at the forefront of fighting Covid-19. PM has urged the nation to acknowledge their efforts by standing in the balconies and at the doorstep of their houses and clap or ring bells for five minutes as a mark of appreciation. States governments have indicated the timing by blaring out a siren at 5pm.

In sync with the Janta Curfew, many state governments have ordered shops to close shutters. Along with shops, malls, cinema halls and pubs have also expressed their solidarity. 

Several automakers have reacted to the epidemic by shutting down operations till we are out of danger. Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd (M&M) is in the process of shutting down its tractor production facility in Nagpur. Quite like the production units of Tata Motors Ltd, FCA India Automobiles Pvt Ltd and Hero MotoCorp Ltd which are being shut down.

A complete lockdown has been announced in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Only essential services will ply in 75 districts of these states.

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