Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray - scrambling to contain a fresh wave of Covid infections in his state - wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday to ask that the pandemic be declared a "natural calamity" and SDRF funds be used to give financial relief to those most badly affected.
Mr Thackeray - whose state now has more than six lakh active cases - drew the Prime Minister's attention to the "huge surge in COVID-19 patients... in Maharashtra and other states", and said people needed help, monetary or otherwise, since a "mini-lockdown is now a necessity"
"In view of the COVID-19 pandemic... a mini-lockdown is a necessity... pandemic may be notified as a natural calamity under the SDRF. Accordingly the state may be allowed to pay Gratuitous Relief of Rs 100 per adult per day and Rs 60 per child per day during lockdown to all AYY (Antodaya Anna Yojana) and Priority Household (PHH) ration card-holders," Mr Thackeray wrote.
"They are the ones whose livelihoods are seriously affected due to lockdown," he said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray writes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting various measures to be undertaken in view of the #COVID19 pandemic. pic.twitter.com/maXtfDdlR6— ANI (@ANI) April 15, 2021
The Chief Minister said the money required to "tide over the financial situation" could be released from the first installment of the centre's share of SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) funds.
Last year's lockdown hit the economy and people's lives hard, with a plummeting GDP and a struggling MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) sector making for grim headlines.
And with that in mind Mr Thackeray also wrote "banks may be asked to defer installments that are becoming due at least in first quarter of current financial year... without interest".
He also asked for an extension for small and medium taxpayers to submit March-April GST returns.
Maharashtra retains the unwanted distinction of being the state most badly affected by the Covid pandemic, with nearly 60,000 new cases on Wednesday and more than 50,000 new cases per day for the past week. Hospital beds and life-saving medical equipment are in short supply across the state.
Mr Thackeray has in the past shied away from ordering a full lockdown, but with cases piling up, contagious stains of the virus, and vaccines in short supply, he may not have a choice.
On Tuesday he warned the state's residents "the war has begun (again)" and announced a series of tough restrictions. He acknowledged the economic pain the restrictions would cause, but said his hand had been forced; "... bread and butter is important but saving lives is important too," he said.
Last week he also ordered a weekend lockdown and night curfew.
With input from ANI