Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel speaks to Gargi Verma on the Covid situation, the schemes being launched and the strength of the Congress in the state. Excerpts:
In Chhattisgarh, the Covid-19 cases have crossed 10,000. What is the strategy to deal with this?
This is a great slap on the face of people who were claiming to have beaten Corona in 21 days, just like they claimed Mahabharat was won in 18 days. The mistake was made right at the beginning. We could have stopped international travel, or at the very least home quarantined everyone who came. But we let the disease spread. Chhattisgarh was still safe, because of our promptness. We had only 2 or 3 cases left when lockdown was opened up. Trains started coming, without information… we were given unnecessary ones. We had asked for two trains from Gujarat, we were given a dozen. Regular travel was opened. Then it became out of our control. Because people have come from outside, our numbers are inflated. In fact, our officials, our public have fought valiantly and have practised discipline. We did all we could. Now that the pandemic is in front of us, we are fighting. The deaths in the state have been due to co-morbidities. In comparison to other neighbouring states, our situation and numbers are still better. In fact, people are more aware about the virus and thus less scared. We have also made available the option of home isolation, so that our beds are not unnecessarily used and those who want can stay at home. We are all trying to control, but since everything is open, “kaun prasad baant k chala jata hai, pata nahi”.
You are planning to spend Rs 134 crore on development of parts of Ram Van Gaman Path. Some see this as Congress adapting to BJP’s path and an appeasement move towards the majority
Ram is in our culture. We use his name as greetings. We have Kabirpanthis in the state…. Today in Chhattisgarh, every house, every village has their Ramayana recital and reading sessions. We have the only Kaushalya temple in the country, dating back to the 7th century, we have several relics, several places identified by the central and state governments, from where folklore says Ram had passed through… So since it is so linked with our culture, we wanted to develop it from a cultural as well as a tourism point of view. Moreover, the BJP has just made a lot of noise over the lord’s name. If today the country had a different government, then that PM would have laid the foundation stone. The BJP is trying to usurp credit for something that was a lawful process. Ram is nobody’s private property, no one has a copyright on him.
Government departments are working on a limited budget as money inflow has been affected by Covid-19. How have you still inaugurated several schemes?
Shortage of funds doesn’t mean that we compromise on necessary welfare schemes, especially health. The trauma centre in Bijapur, our malaria eradication drive this year and our work in malnutrition… are things we need to focus on… If there’s no waste of money, a little goes a long way. We are already spending as much as the previous governments on roads and in panchayat expenses. Despite that, we could pull through a loan waiver and two Nyay schemes. Even the previous governments took loans. If need be, in these drastic times, we would take loans too…
Schemes of cow welfare have been inaugurated, but the Gothan (cow shelter) construction is still not underway at several places. Several unregistered ground-level farmers have not received any benefits of Nyay. Do you think your schemes are getting implemented as they should?
For schemes to work, registrations need to be done. Some farmers had not registered because they were getting more price outside for certain crops like maize. But we are trying to spread awareness… As far as Gothans are concerned, we started working as soon as the government was formed. Last year, we accepted proposals of more than 5,000 gothans, out of which 2,400 have been built. Many of those had started making their own vermicompost even though its importance was not recognised. However, as soon as we started the Nyay yojana, more people came forward… In 15 days, 1,700 gothans were started. As soon as money from gothans started flowing in, several sarpanches who were laid-back earlier are now working actively. In the near future, both the schemes will be implemented to a tee…
With several senior IAS and IPS officers under investigation over scams and police excess, what is your position on still employing them? Is it not akin to giving them a clean chit?
These are sub-judice matters, the day court rules on them we will follow. But until then, since these are senior officers available to me, I will employ them and use them in positions where their expertise lies.
(S R P) Kalluri had threatened me personally in the past, but now that I am the CM, I can’t see him like that, I have to maintain decorum and treat him as an officer on duty. These are after all officers in the government and have to be utilised. The day courts pass judgments, we will follow through…
Despite having a large mandate, visits by senior Congress leaders P L Punia and Digvijaya Singh have raised questions. You are working with two of your competitors Tamradhwaj Sahu and T S Singhdeo. How is the Congress’s internal strength in Chhattisgarh?
When I was made the party head in Chhattisgarh six years ago, I worked with them. In fact, at that time even (Ajit) Jogi was also there. I managed to work and will still do. There are absolutely no differences between me and any of the other ministers. The BJP keeps making noise about our internal conflict, when there’s none, it is their wishful thinking… Puniaji is our senior and he had been visiting because several decisions had to be taken post elections. As far as Digvijayaji’s visit is concerned, that was not political but personal.
The I-T raid against IAS officers, Congress leaders and even staff from the CMO was a surprise. But has any agency reached out for any information or follow-up?
The I-T agencies keep raiding, but they at least inform the state machinery. Even months later, there has been no word from the agencies, no exchange of information… It is very clear from examples in Rajasthan, that central agencies are being used as an arm-twisting manoeuvre by the ruling party. Things earlier done clandestinely, this government is doing out in the open.
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