My dear brothers and sisters, The global pandemic of COVID-19, a viral flu, has cost thousands of lives and made thousands more sick. It has brought the world to a grinding halt.
As humanity faces its gravest challenge in recent decades, it is a time for the world to reflect on what we must do right, from now on. While India joins the community of nations to tackle the pandemic, this requires us to take effective steps within our country to contain the disease, so we can save lives and ensure a secure future for all.
I am aware of the massive impact this viral outbreak has on the lives and livelihoods of crores of people. On behalf of the nation, I extend our gratitude to every street vendor and vegetable seller, and small traders, who provide us fresh food every day. I profusely thank every doctor and nurse involved in securing our health. Every Safai Karmachari deserves our deepest gratitude for keeping our villages, towns and cities clean and healthy.
I thank on behalf of all of us every bus, train and taxi driver, and those who keep our public transport systems functional, so we can travel in safety. I am deeply grateful to every soldier who unmindful of the risks are defending our security in these testing times. And in the same way think of every police person working long hours to maintain law and order respectful of our human rights. Every person working in public and private sectors, every student and elder, is in my thoughts, as we brace up to overcome this pandemic.
I have spoken with each and every Chief Minister and Lt. Governor, and assured them that Government of India will back fully and tirelessly their efforts to tackle this epidemic. As a nation that thrives on federated governance, we must value our deeply democratic traditions and work together to overcome this challenge. States must lead the way and the Centre will back them to the hilt. At the same time, Local Governments are the frontline warriors in this campaign against this epidemic, and we must take the opportunity to strengthen them and ensure they are function optimally to keep our villages and cities healthy and productive.
Tonight I come before you to announce certain steps we need to take as a nation, so we can tackle this epidemic on a war footing and ensure we come out of this crisis stronger. I am directing these actions with due consultation with the Union Council of Ministers and the consent of all Chief Ministers and Lt. Governors.
1. The Union Health Ministry will constantly develop guidelines to tackle the epidemic in collaboration with World Health Organisation and Indian Council for Medical Research. These guidelines will be reached to each and every Panchayat and Ward across the country, so that ground level workers are empowered with the most up-to-date knowledge of how to tackle the epidemic and guide the public at large effectively.
2. All State Governments and Union Territories will ensure all public hospitals (primary, secondary and tertiary) are fully functional and treat everyone who comes seeking treatment and care. Specialised public hospitals will also prepare plans to assist general care hospitals in meeting this challenge. No person will be turned back for want of access to a health facility.
3. All Private hospitals with a bed strength of over 20 will be required to set aside 30% of their beds to attend to COVID infected persons with immediate effect, at prices regulated by the Union Health Ministry. If essential, State Health Departments through their district level functionaries can increase demand of the proportion of beds from private healthy providers on a need basis. On the basis of a fortnightly review, this demand may be revoked.
4. There will be dynamic communication between the Union Health Ministry, State Departments of Health and the ground level health units (private and public) to report on new cases, how it is being dealt with, and to ensure there are no information gaps. This quality of communication is critical to ensure infections are contained and those in need of help will be attended to with urgency. To ensure there are no communication failures, internet access to all health units across the country are declared free henceforth. Public and private internet operators who provide internet services will be compensated by the Dept. of Telecom.
5. Every District/Metropolitan Planning Committee (constituted per Articles 243ZD/E of the Indian Constitution) shall within a period of a week develop a district level action plan to tackle COVID outbreak, keeping in mind the steps proposed would help develop strategies to secure public health in future. These plans will be forward to the nodal Departments and the State Finance Commissions, so the cost of support a country-wide action to secure health of all can be assessed. If necessary, I am willing to request and Emergency meeting of the Parliament to approve a Special Health Budget Package to tackle the epidemic, and to ensure the investment will ensure Health for All becomes a reality.
6. It has been widely acknowledged that movement of people is a major cause of the transmission of the disease. In order that we can minimize travel within districts and across states, for the next three weeks all forms of public transport (road, rail and air) will be limited to essential travel as per guidelines issues by Union Ministry of Transport. Domestic and international air travel will be restricted for the next three weeks only to highly essential travel, with airline and shipping operators given the responsibility of establishing due necessity as per guidelines issued by Union Ministry of Civil Aviation.
7. As and when essential, District Commissioner may decide if a district, or a part of the district, should be placed under lockdown to block spread of infections, and with appropriate reasoning.
8. All public institutions and public sector enterprises, voluntary sector and corporate organization with a staff strength of over 50, will be on notice to assist public health and welfare measures in tackling this epidemic effectively.
9. The Union Finance Ministry will work with Reserve Bank of India and all banks and financial institutions to recover Non Performing Assets within a period of three months, so the money recovered is available to States and Local Governments to build our public health systems. I have requested the Union Finance Minister to list out the top 50 offenders and ensure they are immediately tackled to recover bad debts, so the maximum benefit fo this financial recovery is made available for public welfare.
10. I have requested Union Human Resources Development Ministry to work with State Education Department to develop appropriate communications to each and every student of this country, explaining to them the need to postpone exams, and how the country will safeguard their futures. As a part of this measure, all student loan payments are suspended for the next three months, and without any additional interest.
11. All leave of the Central and State Government employees will be cancelled for the next two weeks, and this date may be extended if the situation so demands. They will be required to assist governmental efforts on demand. Each department will also develop a policy for their work so that they can work safely, if possible from home, on staggered hours, and as the situation warrants.
12. All families below poverty line, and those who work with the small and medium enterprises, small businesses, small and marginal farmers, fisher communities and adivasis, will be assisted with a special economic package so that they do not suffer during this period of slowdown of our economy. This will include extending special pay without work for a period of 30 days.
13. I have also requested the Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, and their central and state environmental regulatory instrumentalities, to suspend all clearance according activities for a period of a month from today. During this period, all clearances accorded over the past five years for developmental projects will reviewed to ensure they are not adversely affecting our forests and ecologically sensitive areas, keeping in mind the fact that such epidemics could be a direct result of subordinating environment and health to economic imperatives. I have advised them, as I have advised all Union Ministers, to ensure that henceforth their activities will meet the standards set in Article 39 of the Constitution of India.
14. I also would like to share with you that I will be meeting with the Daadis and others who are at Shaheen Bagh, to request them to defer their protests, and to also assure them that the Government of India is most willing to listen to their concerns. In this regard, I have requested the Union Home Minister to join me in this visit, so we can work out an harmonious solution. I would like to assure the people of India, that the Government of India is theirs, and if they so decide our actions are not within the bounds of Constitutionality, we must listen and correct ourselves.
15. Accordingly, I have requested the Union Home Minister to keep on hold activities relating to NRC and NPR until we can come to terms with its implications, and have requested the matter be comprehensively enquired into by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and a report tabled in Parliament during the Monsoon session. I have also requested Chief Ministers to meet with any group or community who feel they are marginalized or believe they are losing their fundamental rights, so they can be assured the Government of India has only one intention – to take us all forward together. When we join the community of nations to tackle a global pandemic, we must first all be together and look out for each other, celebrating our diversities.
Brothers and sisters, I acknowledge that these measures should have been in place much earlier. We did not need this epidemic to remind ourselves of our responsibility to each other, and to future generations. However, we have now woken up as a nation and we shall work together and step forward in unity, with amity and to safeguard our individual health and collective progress.
Prime Minister of India