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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Ashok Gehlot: ‘Economic activity must begin in non-hotspot zones… otherwise people will die of hunger’

Economic activities should restart. I told the Prime Minister in previous meetings that states are facing a financial crunch, says Ashok Gehlot.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: April 27, 2020 7:38:57 am
coronavirus, coronavirus news, covid 19 tracker, covid 19 india tracker, rajasthan cm ashok gehlot, rajasthan lockdown exit strategy, rajasthan special covid task force, coronavirus covid 19, rajasthan corona cases, rajasthan coronavirus deaths, india news, indian express Ashok Gehlot, Chief Minister of Rajasthan. (Express photo/ File)

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot speaks to Manoj C G on what he is going to suggest to the Prime Minister in the video conference scheduled for Monday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a video conference with Chief Ministers on Monday to deliberate on the way ahead. What is going to be your suggestion?

There has been some modification in the lockdown, some relaxation for industries and shops etc. That is fine but more activities should begin. Because the revenue of state governments has become zero… When there is no revenue, how will states work?… There will be no money to pay salaries and pensions. You talk about workers. Workers should get wages.What about employees?… They too should get salaries. So, the requirement today is that economic activity should begin in non-hotspot zones while maintaining social distancing norms, wearing masks and other precautions. Otherwise, people will die of hunger. I can’t say how many people will die of corona but if this situation continues, people will die of hunger.

Read| On table in PM meeting with CMs today: Migrants, easing curbs, financial support

What are the other issues you are going to flag?

The main issue is testing. That will be my number one suggestion. Widespread testing is important. Testing should be scaled up in an extraordinary way. There is a new machine, it costs around Rs 6.5 crore. It will be able to run up to 4,000 tests per day. We are going to purchase two machines from the US, one for Jodhpur and one for Jaipur. Testing capacity should be increased across the country. And for that, the Central government should come forward and not leave it to the states. The Union Health Ministry today (Sunday) held a video conference with state health secretaries and I am told it was said that the number of Covid cases could shoot up in the coming days, could touch even lakhs. So, the only solution — as Rahul Gandhi has been saying repeatedly — is testing, testing and more testing. The rapid test formula has failed. We had told ICMR it was of no use. So the only solution is RT-PCR tests. So the central government should procure such advanced machines, RNA extraction test kits, masks and PPE in a big way.

Read| Explained: To do rapid tests, or not to

Can you elaborate on how the lockdown should be modified?

Economic activities should restart. I told the Prime Minister in previous meetings that states are facing a financial crunch. I had demanded that the borrowing limit should be relaxed and that there should be a moratorium on payment of dues to financial institutions under RBI and other central agencies. I had told the Prime Minister that the Central government should grant an additional Rs 1 lakh crore to states to tackle the pandemic. Look at the world. All the big countries — be it the US, France, Germany or England — have announced economic packages to the tune of 12 to 15 per cent of their GDP. You must think big to restart the economy. The Rs 1.7 lakh crore package the government had announced is not even 0.6 per cent of the GDP. It is grossly inadequate. When there was an economic slowdown during the UPA time in 2009, the government had earmarked 3 per cent of the GDP. I am not an economist, but my common sense says the government should earmark at least 10 per cent of the GDP for relief and stimulus. Because the economy has collapsed because of the lockdown…

Are you hopeful that the Prime Minister will consider your suggestions. suggestions from Opposition-ruled states?

See, I accept there is a big challenge before the Central government. But the entire Opposition and state governments are cooperating… Congress president Sonia Gandhi has written to the Prime Minister declaring the party’s support. Rahul Gandhi has said he is not going to criticise but give constructive suggestions… So, the Central government should not take our suggestions as criticism. They should consider them as feedback… and it is up to them to accept the suggestions or not. But they should welcome suggestions from Opposition parties.

The Congress has been talking about stranded migrant labourers? What is your view on that?

In the absence of clear instructions from the central government, the movement of migrant labourers was unnecessarily delayed. The central government created some confusion, because of which we faced some problems, but the movement has begun.

Read| By revealing magnitude of migrant worker phenomenon, COVID-19 points to rural distress

The other thing is about the poor and the destitute—be it APL or BPL—MGNREGA workers. We have given them a package. We have transferred Rs 2,500 to each one of them. We have given pensions to 80 lakh people. We have provided them food. The central government is also doing. There is a Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, but they should increase it manifold. What I mean to say is no one should sleep hungry. You have to create confidence in workers. That can only happen if you give a separate financial package for them. What I mean to say is that. There should be separate financial packages for the industry, MSME sector and for the poor. The central government, for instance, is allocating foodgrains under the National Food Security Act based on the 2011 Census. That data does not reflect the ground reality. In Rajasthan, some 60 lakh people are left out and my government is going to purchase foodgrains from FCI at market price. The Centre should have been giving the food grains free. Why should states purchase at market price at such a time?

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