Jharkhand has seen four positive cases so far but the state will need more planning to contain the spread of COVID-19. Chief Minister Hemant Soren spoke to Abhishek Angad about the challenges, financial needs and exit strategy for the lockdown. Excerpts:
What is the scale of the challenge that Jharkhand is facing right now?
This is a disaster and this can take any form. But there has to be a lot of preparation… frontline workers are the most scared and it is dangerous. Jaise taise is disaster ko tackle karne mein lage hain (we are managing it somehow). With limited resources, we are extracting maximum output. At present, we have 163 ventilators, including private and government. We have 5,535 PPEs (personal protective equipment) with 5,000 PPEs arriving recently. The central government needs to clarify why we are getting supplies very late even when we had ordered on March 23. There are reports that PPEs were exported to Serbia—the veracity of it needs to be checked. But if it is true then this is shocking given the risk to healthcare workers.
What is the financial burden on the state? Have you asked for anything from the Centre?
The state has a liability of MGNREGA funds and we spent Rs 600 crore through revolving funds. We received Rs 102 crore recently from the Centre but it needs to clear the dues as soon as possible. We had GST dues and we have received a letter that the Centre will release GST compensation of Rs 863 crore. However, apart from all budgetary allocation, talking conservatively, we will need more than Rs 10,000 crore to deal with the large influx of people….
Do you have a lockdown exit strategy? How will you contain the spread of COVID-19 during the influx?
A nationwide lockdown was announced by PM Narendra Modi and we were never asked. But now Modi-ji wants our opinion on exit strategy. We are deliberating on it and only when we are satisfied will we lift the lockdown (in the state)… Around 6 lakh labourers will come to the state once the lockdown is lifted and the influx will not be in anyone’s control. Fortunately, rural areas comprise more than 80 per cent of Jharkhand and those areas are already isolated and the population is not dense. The only workable solution with us right now is to make people aware of the COVID-19. And we have to be ready with all medical facilities…
There is confusion among people on whether two months of ration will be given in April. People who are not under PDS remain clueless.
There is a task force already in place. A few dealers have been suspended too. We cannot right away cancel licenses as it will create a big problem in appointing new ones during the crisis. We are working towards it. At present 6-7 lakh are being fed through various kitchens on a daily basis and we will increase the daily number being fed to 12 lakh. However, problems are going to escalate once there is a large influx of people.
Considering the need for social distancing and uncertainty over funds transfer as well as transportation required to visit a nearest bank, do you have any plans to give cash in hand?
Right now the focus is to feed (people)…. They will now need money only for food, which we are providing. We will plan for it if needed.
A survey was recently done by the Centre where IAS officers in various districts were asked questions. There was no anesthetist to operate ventilators in Dumka. Are specialist doctors missing in Jharkhand?
We don’t think we will feel any shortage… We have trained a lot of people in handling the equipment, among others.
A lot of Tablighi Jamaat members who attended an event in Nizamuddin in the middle of March have tested positive. Jharkhand initially released a list of 40 people but it turned out to be bogus. Has the state been able to zero-in on them even as other states are releasing data?
We are working on war footing. I appeal and humbly request them to come forward and make themselves available for the test.
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