Stakeholders and representatives from India's startup community has urged the Centre to impose Section 144 across major cities in the country in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease. In a petition to the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, around 60 startup founders and investors have suggested that the government should impose strict lockdowns and Section 144 or curfew law against group gatherings across major cities for two weeks starting March 20.
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) prohibits the assembly of five or more people. "While containment efforts must continue, imposing a lockdown and Section 144 now vs 30 days later might reduce the deaths by 5x (saving nearly 10,000 lives)," the statement read. The stakeholders reasoned that the countries such as China, South Korea and Japan were able to "flatten the curve" through such strict measures. On the other hand, countries such as Italy, France and the US did not bother to take drastic steps to check the spread and hence, saw positive coronavirus cases multiply over the days.
The petition has proposed a four-phase shut down plan from March 20 till May 31. The statement has also listed out a four-point plan to prepare well for the shut down.
For the first phase—from March 20 (Friday) to April 12—the startups have proposed imposition of Section 144 across major cities and affected areas, with employees at private enterprises to be asked to 'work from home'. Further, all restaurants, bars, schools and colleges, cinema halls and places of worship should be shut during the period. All events must be cancelled, the plan explains.
By the second phase of the shutdown—from April 13 to May 17—the government would be in a position to lift Section 144 in most places, after reassessment. The startup sector believes that by this phase it would be safe to reopen all storefront businesses and a few education institutions and religious places. However, they want 'work from home' option for employees of private enterprises to continue into the second phase, too.
In the third phase—between May 18 and May 31—the signatories have cautioned the government against a full-blown second peak stage of the coronavirus disease, citing the example of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. In such a scenario, the government might be forced to impose a second total lockdown as in the first phase.
By June, it is expected that the country might come out of the most dangerous period associated with the coronavirus disease. The startup community foresees it to be safe to reopen all institutions, lifting all restrictions by then. That said, the government should encourage citizens to adopt caution and continue to maintain strict personal hygiene and social distancing.
The proposal was signed by venture capital investors across the spectrum, including Matrix Parnters, Kalaari Capital, Accel Partners, and founder of startups such as Redbus, Bounce, Unacademy, Snapdeal and Urban Company, among others. The petition has warned that a delayed response to the global pandemic might worsen the economic and social impact of COVID-19.
India has so far reported a total of 147, coronavirus positive cases. This includes 122 Indian nationals, 25 foreign nationals and three deaths.