New Delhi, Uttarakhand has been making all-out efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, with Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat leading from the front. The hill state has reported 48 cases so far, with no deaths. Rawat said efforts have already been initiated to boost the state economy, and that the process will gain momentum once the lockdown ends. He said a ministerial group and high-powered committee will be constituted to gear up the state economy and generate jobs.
Excerpts from interview:
Q: The lockdown has led to loss of avenues of livelihood. Those in the unorganised sector are worried about their survival. What does the Uttarakhand government intend to do?
CM: We are carefully and gradually restarting economic activities. Since the government is worried, it has asked for giving permissions for construction activities in the government and private sectors. Police will be asked to ensure social distancing. Wearing of face masks in public would be compulsory.
A ministerial group under Cabinet Minister Subodh Uniyal will be set up to see how we can compensate the state exchequer for the losses suffered due to the coronavirus scare and subsequent lockdown. We will see how local jobs can be generated, how youths can be given employment and the labourers made more financially secure. Ministers Dr Dhan Singh Rawat and Rekha Arya would be members of this ministerial group.
Also, we will connect with the migrant labourers from different states currently living in Uttarakhand, who hold importance in various sectors of the state, would be contacted through videoconferencing to elicit their views on various issues.
We have formed a high-powered committee led by retired IAS officer Indu Kumar Pandey to give suggestions on ways and means to boost the state economy and generate jobs.
We are holding discussions with experts in the fields of tourism, agriculture, industry, animal husbandry and horticulture. We just have to be patient - we will defeat coronavirus and we will boost the state economy thereafter.
Q: The Home Ministry has issued guidelines on opening of shops and allowed specific activities in the second phase of the lockdown from April 20. What all has the Uttarakhand government allowed and what precautions are being observed?
CM: As per the central guidelines, we have allowed manufacture of essential items, pharmaceuticals, food processing, manufacturing for supply chains, industry in the rural areas, and brickworks, albeit with adherence to social distancing and other norms.
Q: What steps have your government taken to ensure supply of essential commodities?
CM: We have taken innovative steps in this regard, including Jan Apoorti app. People can order for supplies of essential items through this app while sitting in their homes. The app has since become very popular.
Q: What has been done to tackle violations of lockdown norms?
CM: We are taking strict action against violators. Instructions in this regard are very clear. As many as 9,671 persons have been arrested and 2150 cases lodged till April 25. Also, 24,342 challans have been issued under the Motor Vehicle Act, and 5,203 vehicles seized. Fines totalling Rs 1.20 crore has been realised.
Q: What efforts have been made to ensure supply chains are not broken?
CM: We have ensured the smooth functioning of pharmaceutical units, flour mills and food processing units.
Q: How many people have benefited from supply of ration in Uttarakhand? How many people have benefitted from the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana and Jan Dhan scheme?
CM: Many steps have been taken for the welfare of the people. Schools have been ordered not to charge fees for lockdown period. Those suffering from coronavirus have been provided free treatment under the Atal Ayushman Uttarakhand Yojana. Manufacturers of edible oil have been asked to reserve 50 per cent of their produce for the state's markets.
As per the Antyodaya Anna Yojana under the National Food Security Mission, each beneficiary has been given additional 5 kg rice free of cost for April, May and June. All charges on water supply and sewerage connections have been postponed till May 31. Electricity consumers too have benefitted.
Operation of flour mills has been smoothened to ensure sufficient availability of flour in the market during the lockdown. These mills have been provided wheat through the Food Corporation of India. We are ensuring availability of items of daily needs like edible oils, soaps, pulses, salt, etc at all ration shops. Home delivery of essentials has been ensured to the old and sick, and pregnant women.
Workers registered under the Employees State Insurance have been given Rs 1,000 each. District collectors have been given a total of Rs 30 crore from the CM Relief Fund to help those not registered for state benefits and others in need of help. Cattle feed and products related to agriculture have been included in essential commodities category.
Payments of loans raised by farmers for agriculture and related activities from cooperative banks have been deferred by three months. There are 3.5 lakh farmers in the state. The government has also decided to ensure sufficient ration to each resident under the Food Security Mission.
Ration in the form of 35 kg wheat and rice for three months would be given under the Antyodaya Scheme. Five kg rice and pulses would be given to each of the white card holders. A total of 10 lakh ration card holders will be given 15 kg ration in place of 7.5 kg for the months of April, May and June. Those who don't have ration cards would also be supplied ration kits in Uttarakhand
Q: What was the biggest challenge faced due to coronavirus in Uttarakhand? What arrangements have been made to observe the lockdown, what is the quarantine arrangement in the state?
CM: Some challenge was definitely faced with the Tablighis carrying corona infection. But we took the support of the enlightened people of their group and explained that getting infected with corona is not a mistake, but to hide it is a crime. However, strict action was taken against those who were hiding and those who were helping them to hider. As a result of this, infected people came and started getting treatment. I am glad that many of these people have recovered. People are being quarantined in the state in two ways. Home quarantine and institutional quarantine. More than 2,500 people are in institutional quarantine. There are more than 18,000 beds available.
As far as the observance of the lockdown is concerned, it was started in the state on the day of Janata Curfew on March 22 on the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We had ordered the closure of the educational institutions on March 15 itself. We strictly implemented the lockdown in the state. Conscious people of the state also helped in this. We have made sure that the needs of the essential goods and services of the people are met. Suggestions from the enlightened people of the society were also taken into consideration. We set the time of opening of shops of essential commodities in such a way that there is no rush and crowds.
Q: Uttarakhand is a state where very few cases have been reported from other states. After all, what is this 'Uttarakhand model' of controlling the corona?
CM: See, the fight against corona is a fight for the whole of humanity. We can all win only by uniting. This fight in the country is being fought under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Due to the right decisions taken by him at the right time, the pace of spread of corona in India has reduced. As far as Uttarakhand is concerned, I would like to thank the people of the state including all the corona warriors, with whose cooperation we have been successful in controlling it. Corona cases in Uttarakhand are doubling in 26.6 days. In this sense, Uttarakhand ranks third in preventing corona infection.
I am constantly monitoring ...we review daily with senior officials and are taking necessary decisions. Where deficiencies are seen, they are improved. The most important aspect of our strategy is public cooperation.
I would like to congratulate our doctors and health workers that more than half of the 48 cases of corona infection have recovered and gone home. Even a 9-month-old baby was cured in only 6 days. We have not had a single death from coronavirus yet.
Q: How many people have been tested by the state government in Uttarakhand so far? How many people are being tested for samples every day? When is the state expected to become corona-free?
CM: A total of 4,767 samples have been sent to the state for testing of Covid-19 till April 24. We had two testing labs till now, now the third lab has also started working. So far, 25 of these 48 corona positives have been cured. Seven of our districts are in the Green Zone. We are taking the state towards liberation from the corona.