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Modi asks India's poor for forgiveness as lockdown toll intensifies

MUMBAI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the nation's poor for forgiveness yesterday, as the economic and human toll from his 21-day nationwide lockdown deepens and criticism mounts about a lack of adequate planning ahead of the decision.

Mr Modi last Tuesday announced a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But the decision has particularly stung millions of India's poor, leaving many hungry and forcing tens of thousands of jobless labourers to walk hundreds of kilometres from cities to their native villages.

"I would firstly like to seek forgiveness from all my countrymen," Mr Modi said in a nationwide radio address, urging people to understand there was no other option.

"Steps taken so far… will give India victory over corona," he added.

Mr Modi, whose government announced a US$22.6 billion (S$32.2 billion) economic stimulus plan to provide direct cash transfers and food handouts to India's poor, did not offer any clarity on future plans however.

In an op-ed published yesterday, Mr Abhijit Banerjee and Ms Esther Duflo - winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics last year - warned that even more aid for the poor is needed.

"Without that, the demand crisis will snowball into an economic avalanche, and people will have no choice but to defy orders," they wrote in the Indian Express.

There is still broad support for strong measures to avoid a coronavirus catastrophe in India, a country of some 1.3 billion people where the public health system is poor. But opposition leaders, analysts and even some citizens are increasingly criticising its implementation.

The number of confirmed cases in India rose to 979 yesterday, with 25 deaths. - REUTERS

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