Updated: April 12, 2020 7:11:17 am
The Prime Minister today had a meeting with the Chief Ministers. The indication is that the lockdown will be extended. What is your view?
All state governments gave a feedback on where we stand today. We shared our concerns and the way forward and what needs to be done in terms of our capacities, financial resources, issues like procurement of crop from farmers and also to arrange additional financial support from the RBI and the government of India. I do believe that whatever the Central government decides finally, it should be unanimous and harmonious. Because lockdown in some states and not in some states really is of no use. Whatever decision once taken should be followed through thoroughly and with full discipline. COVID-19 LIVE updates
The lifting of the lockdown, whenever it is done, has to be done in a staggered fashion. Because all of our hard work for the last two-three weeks will then go to waste if there is a full back-to-normal sort of movement like earlier. So, lifting also, whether you call it staggered or partial or stage wise…that is the only way to go forward. It’s not a choice of either or because we have to breathe life back into the economy because 83 percent of all people employed in this country are in the unorganised sector, and they live hand to mouth. So, for them to sustain such a long lockdown is really a life-threatening challenge. But at the same time livelihood is important, so are lives and if we enter the fourth stage then we will have really no recourse at all left.
Can you elaborate a bit on how do you think it can be done?
We have to look at multiple options and I think it can’t be one size fits all. It’s not possible. What’s happening in Meghalaya and Manipur requires one model….on the other hand Puducherry and Kerala have a different set up…So depending on the geography, depending on the state, depending on the spread of infection and the propensity for further spread, that has to be taken into account.
And I think obviously, as even now the essential services are still in place, but you have to avoid mass movements, the likes of what we saw when migrant labourers moved around all the states.. that creates panic pressure on the resources and a lot of risk of infection. So, it has to be done very scientifically. And I think the people involved in the medical profession, in scientific community, different stakeholders must be taken on board and then a very clear-cut path must be devised and once we set out on a path or a course, then everybody must diligently follow that.
So there can’t be any national strategy? You are suggesting different states given the kind of spread of the disease can have different strategies?
That’s right but like I said what happened after the lockdown. Yesterday, UP and Delhi have also identified certain spots. For example in Bhilwara, what we did was a super curfew….zero movement of vehicles and people. Even the essential commodities were delivered to the doorstep by the administration. So, people, including journalists and NGOs, were not allowed to move around. So that clamping down had to be done depending on the situation. And even within a state there are different levels of high-risk areas and different parts.
So, one has to curate that strategy, make it practical, make it effective, make it focused so that you get the best results. People will be inconvenienced. But I think ultimately all of us will have to pay this price as a community, as a nation, and we must fight this as one people of one country.
How did the Bhilwara model come about?
The first corona positive case was detected in Rajasthan on March 2. And subsequently we started gearing up to take preventive measures. The movement of resources, awareness, etc….for example, in the rural parts of Rajasthan what we did was that much before this lockdown was announced or thought of… we started doing distancing of people…so we put like soap bars in the NREGA kits. And we mandated that all NREGA people must wash their hands four times a day. So that started in the second week of March much before the lockdown happened. We started preparing and then when the first case came in Bhilwara..a doctor…through him the infection was spreading to patients, colleagues…we imposed a curfew.
Despite the curfew, the numbers were still rising. Then we had what we called the super curfew..we actually had a full lockdown…there was zero movement. Then we started screening. Every household in the city was screened at least three times. And all those who we thought were showing influenza like symptoms were isolated and quarantined, and people cooperated. From my department, I focused a lot on the rural areas. For instance, when it comes to spraying of disinfectants….it was done in 39,000 out of the 46,000 villages in Rajasthan. Secondly, every Panchayat was given Rs 50,000 to buy sanitizers and masks. In my ministry, we activated the village sanitation committee, way back in middle of March which is headed by the Sarpanch. We used that platform to get door to door awareness programmes and all.
Do you think restrictions need to be eased to ensure production of at least essential commodities?
Of course. We need to keep certain critical sectors of our economy functional. And whatever it takes by keeping all precautions in mind we must start doing that because ultimately reserves will dry up. For a longer-term view, I think we’ll have to keep those key sectors functional and the supply of essential commodities food grain, rice, wheat, pulses, cooking oil, all that needs to be at least in a bare minimum level kept afloat. We cannot, we must not go down the way the United States and some countries in Europe have.
And it’s in our interest that we learn from those mistakes. Some of these much wealthier countries with much better health infrastructure are still grappling because they didn’t do the right thing at the right time. So, we can’t allow India to go the US way. That’s something we can’t afford. Because our health care infrastructure is much weaker than these developed countries.
Are there any problems in coordination between centre and the states?
As I said, we must learn from the experiences of other countries. Even in India, while it’s important to learn from what good things some states have done, it’s equally important to share experiences that have not worked very well so you don’t replicate those mistakes. So, I think there should be learning across and between states. And the government of India, also, I think should encourage much more cross discussions between different states because some things have worked, some have not worked.
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