Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat speaks to Lalmani Verma on the fight against Covid-19, the economic challenge the state faces and how it plans to make migrants stay.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected Uttarakhand’s economy and what efforts have you initiated for its revival? Is there any estimate of the quantum of loss?
A single-window system has been set up so that industrialists can conveniently obtain permissions to start their units. Industries manufacturing goods essential for protection from Covid-19 have been exempted from closure during lockdown. Industrial activities have been started as per guidelines of the Central government. Thousands of industries have been given permission to operate and over two lakh labourers will be accommodated there. Many of these industries have started operation. Mining has started seeing demand from construction activities. The last date for payment of lease rent in SIIDCUL Industrial area has been extended from April 30 to June 30. The date for renewal of clearance under Water and Air Pollution Control Acts too has been extended till June 30. The Prime Minister has announced an economic package of Rs 20 lakh crore for the country in which a major relief has been given to MSME sector. Majority of industries in Uttarakhand are in the MSME sector that will benefit from the package.
As far as the revival of the economy is concerned, a committee headed by Indu Kumar Pandey (retired IAS officer) has submitted an interim report, recommending measures that can put economy, revenue resources, economic and industrial activities back on track. A work plan is being prepared as per the committee’s recommendations. Another cabinet sub-committee under Agriculture Minister Subodh Uniyal has been constituted for improvement in agriculture, horticulture, dairy and fisheries sectors.
What is the impact of lockdown on revenue receipt? Are you planning to cut down on non-essential expenditure?
Corona pandemic has affected revenue receipts of the Centre as well as state governments. When economic and industrial activities are stopped, it certainly impacts revenue. On one side, our revenue receipt has declined and on the other, we have given several types of concessions and rebates and have to bear their cost.
As I said earlier, a committee under retired IAS officer Indu Kumar Pandey has been constituted and that has submitted an interim report. A special focus is on revival of the micro economy. Sector-wise analysis is being done. A Special Development Plant is being prepared for increasing economic activities.
Work on development of national highways has started in the state, mining has started and industries are being given permission to operate. With this, our economy will gradually and surely pick pace once again.
Under the state’s “ghar chalo” campaign, migrants are coming back to Uttarakhand on trains and buses and this is leading to a spike in the Covid-19 cases in the. How prepared is the state machinery to address this?
A huge number of people from Uttarakhand live in other states. A large number of them want to come back amid the pandemic. More than 2.5 lakh people have registered so far. We cannot leave our people out on roads. We have arranged buses and trains. The state government is bearing the expenses. Thousands of people have been brought. We are bringing people but we are also following all protocols and health norms the Government of India has laid down. Complete screening and health check-up are being done both before the start of journey and on arrival here. Symptomatic persons are being put in institutional quarantine and asymptomatic persons in home quarantine. Surveillance of those in home quarantine is being done. For this task, village pradhans have been given rights and technology is also being used.
The report of Uttarakhand Migration Commission says that more than five lakh people migrated from hills in the past 10 years due to unavailability of jobs, infrastructure, education and medical facilities. It is a proverb in the hills that “pahad ka paani aur pahad ki jawaani pahad ke kaam nahi aati”. The jawani (youth) is now coming back. How will you retain them in the hills after the lockdown ends?
The state government has always spoken about reverse migration and made constant efforts in this direction. Migrants are returning in large numbers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With a positive approach, we are seeing this as an opportunity to rehabilitate hilly areas. Along with making arrangements to bring back migrants stranded in different states, we are concerned about what they will do after coming here. For that, Mukhyamantri Swarojgar Yojana has been launched in which returnees will be able to get loans to work in service and construction sectors. The state government will also facilitate grants. The government is working on similar other schemes so that returnees get employment here and also contribute to the state’s economy. The Prime Minister has given the call to become “aatmanirbhar” (self-dependent). We want to motivate our people to become self-dependent and capable to contribute in making an “aatmnirbhar Uttarakhand”. A survey is being conducted to find how many returnees wish to stay in Uttarakhand. A portal ‘Hope” has been developed where people can register themselves for jobs. This is the first time any government has started work for preventing migration as well as for reverse migration in a planned manner. Hill areas are in focus under the MSME sector. Rural Development and Migration Commission has been formed. Mukhyamatri Seemant Kshetra Vikas Yojana has been launched, virtual classes have been started in government schools. A lot of improvement has been done in the health sector. In 2017, there were only 85 ICU, 44 ventilators and 5 BiPAP machines in the state. But at present, 256 ICU, 125 ventillators and 33 BiPAP machines are installed. eSanjeevani telemedicine service has been started. All the families are benefiting from the Atal Ayushman Uttarakhand Yojana and the number of doctors in the hills has doubled. Health sub-centres at the village level are being upgraded as health and wellness centres. Growth centres are being developed with a cluster- based approach in all the 670 nyay panchayats. This will strengthen the rural economy. Homestay concept is being promoted, new tourism destinations are being developed under ‘13 districts-13 destinations’ programme. All Weather Road, Bharatmala project, Rishikesh-Karnaprayag railway project, are going to be game-changers. There is a target to connect all villages by road by 2022. We are making all efforts to ensure that returnees stay here after the lockdown and participate in the development of the state.
How much has the state government spent on Covid-19 management so far?
An amount of Rs 85 crore has been released from the SDRF head. From that amount, Rs 5 crore has been given to each district to make preparations for Covid-19 prevention and Rs 20 crore to the medical education department for strengthening of Corona-notified hospitals and procurement of equipment. Rs 10 crore has been released from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to the medical education department for enhancing the capacity of government medical colleges identified for prevention of Covid-19. The state cabinet too has approved Rs 50 crore. A “samman rashi” will be given from the CM fund to the next of kin of corona warriors who lose their lives while carrying out their duties.
Also, how much has the state government spent on bringing back migrants by buses and trains; and how much has been spent on bringing back students from Kota?
We are making all possible efforts to bring back people from Uttarakhand stranded in other states. Over 2.5 lakh registrations have been done so far for coming back to Uttarakhand and over 1.45 lakh have been brought already. They include who travelled by train, buses and private vehicles. Broadly, more than Rs 5 crore has been spent on bringing people. The complete detail of the expenditure is being collected. Apart from that, expenditure has been done on accommodation, food and other facilities for returnees. We cannot leave our people on their own in time of crisis. This practice of bringing them will continue.
Char Dham Yatra and tourism sector is the backbone of the economy of Uttarakhand’s hills. You had also planned to promote religious and adventure tourism. After this loss in lockdown, what are the other avenues you are looking at for reviving the state economy and for recovering the loss?
Char Dham are the centres of faith for crores of people across the world. Covid-19 has affected the Char Dham yatra. The Old glory of Char Dham yatra had been restored after a lot of efforts in the wake of the 2013 disaster. More than 38 lakh pilgrims participated in the Char Dham yatra last year. But, the current situation has affected the yatra this year. We have requested the Centre to allow certain tourism activities in a controlled manner in green zones. What would happen after lockdown-4, we are waiting for guidelines about that from the Centre. Certainly we will come out of this crisis, just like Char Dham yatra was restored after the 2013 disaster.
To overcome that loss, what kind of financial support do you want from the Central government? Have you demanded any special package for Uttarakhand?
See… the entire world is facing the Corona pandemic and it has affected India too on a large scale. Revenue resources of all the states well as the Central government are affected. We cannot fight with Corona separately. We have to work as “team India”. We will certainly win this battle under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Prime Minister has announced a package of Rs 20 lakh crore. There are arrangements in that multi-dimensional package to provide relief to every sector. Concerns of states, too, have been addressed. The states’ demand for raising the borrowing limit from 3 per cent of GDSP has been accepted. That will help states in arranging economic resources. An additional 40,000 crore has been allocated to MGNREGA. Arrangement of ration has been done for poor and returnee migrants. Whether directly or indirectly, states get benefits of steps taken by the Centre. As far as Uttarakhand is concerned, we have apprised the Centre about so many things. We have been receiving cooperation from the Centre and will keep receiving it in the future too.
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What will be your parameters to decide on reopening tourism in the state?
The economy of Uttarakhand is mainly based on tourism. Closure of tourism is affecting the economy and livelihood of local people. Impact on tourism due to restrictions on movement is obvious. The government is considering all the possibilities. The state has requested the Centre to link home-stays with MGNREGA. Information is being collected to provide all possible relief to tourism-related activities. Cabinet has decided to give one-time help of Rs 1,000 to 2.25 lakh guides, rafters, porters registered with the tourism business, and to 25,000 auto and e-rickshaw drivers registered with the transport department. Rebate on interest from April to June is being given to people who have taken loan under Vir Chandra Singh Garhwali self-employment scheme and Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyay home-stay scheme. That will be a big relief for people working in the tourism sector. We are mulling possibilities of starting tourism carefully in a limited manner. But there can be no laxity. Hence, a further decision can be taken only according to the Covid-19 situation in the state.
After the first two phases of lockdown, the Corona outbreak appeared controlled in Uttarakhand. But in recent days, positive cases are being reported almost every day. After a strict lockdown, was it appropriate to allow movement of migrants?
See… the central government and all the state governments under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi made all efforts to control Corona. We are fighting against Corona as team India. The Prime Minister took opinions of Chief Ministers over several video-conferences. Suggestions of all states were taken before every phase of lockdown and strategy was decided on the basis of these suggestions.
The fight against Corona is going to last long. In long-lasting battles, situations keep changing and decisions are taken and strategy is drawn according to the situation. We were successful in controlling Corona in the initial stage by imposing lockdown. In the meantime, health infrastructure was strengthened in view of Corona. Testing labs, PPE kits, ventilators were arranged in sufficient numbers. Lockdown cannot be continued for a long time. Awareness has been created among people. Economic activities are being started gradually. Migrants are our brothers. They cannot be left. Hence, they are being taken to their homes as per their wish. It has increased Corona cases but the situation will gradually return to normalcy.
The Kumbh Mela is scheduled in Haridwar early next year and Kanwar Yatra after a few weeks. Will these religious congregations be organised?
The government is completely alert with regard to Covid-19. Not just the government, but people themselves are aware. All the norms were followed while opening portals of Char Dhams. Devotees are not allowed to visit there. Maha Kumbh is scheduled in Haridwar next year. We have time. Decisions would be taken according to the situation. Norms would be followed, respect for faith would be maintained and decisions would be taken with the cooperation of religious gurus.
The Opposition Congress is constantly questioning the government’s steps for Corona outbreak management and the arrangements made to send migrants to their homes. How do you react to this?
In Uttarakhand, we were successful in keeping Corona under control in the first three phases of lockdown with cooperation from the people. In the fourth phase, cases are increasing following the return of migrants. This is happening not only in Uttarakhand but in all the states. Migrants in large numbers want to return to Uttarakhand. We cannot leave our people unattended. We are bringing them in a planned manner. Every protocol set for this exercise is being followed. Apart from state machinery, we have also taken support of local public representatives. And, we are getting their cooperation. Increase in the number of positive cases creates worries, but it gives relief to see that our patient care management is better. Condition of all the active positive cases is stable.
The MSME sector that plays a vital role in providing jobs in Uttarakhand suffered in the lockdown and now there is shortage of skilled labourers. How is the state government going to help industries in the MSME sector and bring back skilled labourers?
Shortage of labourers can arise everywhere. This is a phase. This problem is comparatively less in our state. The start of economic activities has controlled movement of labourers. Industries have been asked to start work with all precautions. Steps taken for the MSME sector are, as told earlier, among the measures taken for revival of the economy.
What lesson has Uttarakhand learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic and what changes will it make in the future?
At one time, we were planning about a global village but possibilities for this are appearing grim in the near future. In the current situation, we need to become self-dependent on local resources. The government is developing agriculture, tourism and service sectors at the local level. As many as 88 rural growth centres have already been set up in the state. The Prime Minister too has asked to become ‘vocal for local’. Same is the concept of the rural growth centre to develop things locally and fulfill our local needs. Resources for wellness and adventure -elated tourism are available here. We will have to focus on such resources. There is a large variety of vegetables and fruits in our forests which can be processed, but they go to waste. We can do value addition in our traditional farm produce. We have adventure-related activities, spiritual tourism, wildlife, tigers, national parks. Once this phase of Covid-19 ends, all the activities will start again.
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