Centre must handhold states till economy is back on track: Raj CM Gehlot

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BY ARCHANA SHARMA
Jaipur, April 27 (IANS)
With the Bhilwara Model paving way for the global world to strategise in its fight against an unseen enemy — the COVID-19 virus, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was congratulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for taking new initiatives to fight the pandemic during a video conferencing session held with the state CMs on Monday. IANS spoke to Gehlot in an e-interview to know more about these new initiatives being introduced in the state.
Gehlot who has been leading from the front in the battle against the COVID-19 crisis in the state, in the e-interview, highlighted the challenges which were successfully eliminated to make the Bhilwara model a success on the global map. He further discussed the way forward for the state economy which is in shambles following the pandemic outbreak. He talked about the initiatives taken by his government to ensure that “no one sleeps hungry in Rajasthan”.
The CM said that Rajasthan probably is the first state in the country to have announced an economic package of Rs 3,000 crore for the poor and destitute.
He said that the Centre needs to handhold the states till their economies are back on track while demanding a stimulus package for these economies. He highlighted the new changing world where social distancing, he says, will be sacrosanct and ‘vows to work tirelessly till the corona battle is won…

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Rajasthan is being discussed all across the globe for its successful Bhilwara Model? The positive results are out, but may we please know what challenges were seen in this textile city to make this model a success and how were these challenges addressed?

A: Essence of Bhilwara Model is ruthless containment, strict compliance of the curfew and screening of the whole population of the district.
Bhilwara challenge was unique in the sense that the corona infection was found in the doctors and other staff of a private hospital and without any knowledge, the doctor continued with patient consultations in large numbers and the source of infection was also untraceable.
The biggest challenge was screening and testing of the population of more than 3 million and to identify people who had come in contact with the infected persons and quarantine them. For this, extensive counselling of people had to be done.
Ruthless Containment, strict compliance of curfew & Social Distancing were the key features of Bhilwara Model.
Around 2,000 teams carried out door-to-door survey for screening of whole population of the town and enforcing home quarantine on those who showed influenza-like symptoms and if required further testing was done.

Q: The model has been shared in Canada too; any feedback from there?

A: The Ambassador of India to Canada showed keen interest in the Bhilwara Model and in his own wisdom, he shared the model with the Canadian Government. The ruthlessness with which the infection was contained in Bhilwara was appreciated by one and all within and outside India. The success of the model is shown by the fact that 25 of the 27 positive cases stand totally recovered now and have returned home.
I am not aware of any specific feedback from the Government of Canada. But part of the best practices are put to use by different countries as per their suitability.

Q: Your recent announcement to buy wheat under National Food Security Act scheme is yet again a very positive initiative for the poor? How does the state government plans to handle the plight of poor?

A: The State Government has been proactive in making all possible arrangements to ensure that not a single person remains hungry on any of the days. Regarding your question about purchase of wheat, we have decided to procure wheat from FCI at market price i.e. Rs 21/kg and to distribute it free of cost to 60 lakh needy persons. We were probably the first state in the country to have announced an economic package of Rs 3,000 crore for the poor and destitute.
Decision has been taken to provide 10 kg wheat per person for two months to the BPL, State BPL, and families covered under the NFSA.
Besides all these initiatives, economic assistance of Rs 2,500 has been provided to to 33 lakh poor people who are not covered under the National Food Security Act and social security pension schemes. These include construction labourers, daily wage earners, street vendors, rag pickers and other deprived people. These people will also be provided packets of dry ration or food free of cost.
Over 78 lakh people have been paid social security pension of two months in a short span of a week.

Q: What challenges you see during COVID-19 crisis in terms of economic instability. Any way forward which the state govt is contemplating on to battle out the crisis?

A: With the view to bring the state economy on track and ensure growth at a faster speed, a task force has been constituted under the chairmanship of Arvind Mayaram (Retd. Finance Secretary, Govt. of India).
Appropriate steps will be taken with proactive approach through continuous discussions with the experts and stake holders of all the sectors. Even during the modified lockdown, the permitted activities are being supported to ensure that they resume and pickup their operations without much obstacles.

Q: What is your expectation from the central government? You have been writing letters and holding VC with PM, has there been any satisfying feedback from Delhi?

A: We expect that the union government would come forward with a stimulus package for all the states. The Central Government needs to hand hold the states so long as their economies are not back on track. Proactive, state-friendly big policy decisions befitting the situation are expected of the Government of India. All dues that are payable to the states by Union Government need to be cleared at one go.

Q: Please share your major concerns during COVID-19 and the way forward?

A: The experience so far suggests that the novel coronavirus is highly contagious and no definite cure is available. Social distancing and using the mask, seems to be the order of the day. People will have to learn to live with new norms forced by this pandemic such as social distancing, cleanliness of their surroundings, use of sanitizers and masks, work from home to the extent possible and above all to rely on credible sources of information only and not to be taken in by rumours.
Support and sustenance of marginalised sections of the society should now be voluntarily taken up as a collective responsibility by the relatively well-off sections of the society. It seems crowded social ceremonies are to be put on hold for a fairly long period.

Q: There is petty politics also been played in the name of religion during COVID times. Your perspective on the same.

A: I would categorically state that corona does not differentiate between the people based on caste, religion, nationality and any other denominators. We must combat this collectively with all the resources available at our command. It is unfortunate if somebody is indulging in petty politics at the cost of common good of the masses. We will work with the sole objective of saving the lives to the maximum possible. Such actions would not gain traction with people at large. But for sure, this will not weaken our resolve to work tirelessly till we come out victorious.

(Archana Sharma can be reached at arachana.g@gmail.com)

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