At the e.Adda last week, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath spoke on four years of his government, the second wave of Covid-19, and the use of the National Security Act (NSA) in the state. He was in conversation with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group, and Ravish Tiwari, National Bureau Chief and Political Editor, The Indian Express
On the roadmap for Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh is the largest state by the country’s population, so naturally, our challenges are big as well. We have been facing those daunting challenges with robustness and today, the results are in front of us. Everyone saw the state that we had inherited. About four-and-a-half years ago, what assumptions the country and the world had about UP, I don’t think that’s hidden from any of you. But I’m sure that those assumptions about the state have changed now. If someone has not been influenced beforehand, he/she will have a favourable opinion about UP. It has accumulated a lot of positive things in the meantime. In 2016, it ranked 16th on the ‘ease of doing business’ list. Today it’s at No. 2. The state’s economy was 6th in the country. If someone was visiting our state, we had to say that we are the most populated state in the country, but our economy is the 6th. But today it’s the second. We have prepared a roadmap, and the vision that’s been given to us by the PM, and that vision will make us the number one economy in the country, there should be no doubt about that. We had no problems in our work, in the first three years. From March 2017 to March 2020, we were working quite smoothly. After March 2020, corona became a stumbling block — corona has not affected UP alone, but the whole country and the entire world. UP had the biggest challenge to face, we should remember that when the national lockdown took place on March 25, and from thereon we kept facing one challenge after the other. First from Delhi, then Maharashtra and then from all other states, migration started. Forty lakh migrant labourers came back to UP alone. And not just migrant workers from UP, even those going to Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and even those heading to Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Haryana, for all these migrants, UP became the epicentre. Not one worker or labourer who did not hail from UP can say that they faced any sort of discrimination. UP hosted them with all due respect and we even made provisions for a 21-day quarantine for the labourers whose states didn’t want them back. We made arrangements for their boarding, lodging and food. About one crore migrant labourers came to UP or transited through UP. We didn’t give anybody any opportunity to complain.
On managing the second wave of Covid-19
We had the first Covid case in UP in March 2020, we had no recourse for testing or medical care. We started with zero tests, and today we conduct about four lakh tests everyday. The central government supported us, the public encouraged us, civil society and many individuals, and institutions through their CSR initiatives also helped us. Today we have enough laboratories that enable us to conduct four lakh tests daily. We have conducted the most tests — the figure is six crore. We have also worked a lot on Covid prevention in spite of being the most populated state in the country. If we look at the number of migrant labourers, or the fatality rate of people testing positive, UP has fared better than any other big state in the country and is better than many countries in the world as well. The second wave was ushered in the state by the end of March, and we saw its impact by the first week of April. People spread a lot of misinformation about the second wave, and they even said the corona is at an uncontrolled stage in UP. I myself was infected by corona then, as soon as I tested negative, I stepped into the field, and we started surveying the infected areas and we then presented the truth to the media. People at that point were saying that the virus spread because panchayat elections were held. But we clarified that the elections took place because the court has decreed. Another thing that we heard was that corona was out of control in villages. We — me and my ministers — then visited the villages and rural areas where we encountered more stories, as to how bodies were floating in rivers, and other such things. Even when the communities that live alongside the river explained that burying bodies and immersing the dead in the river is a tradition for them, no one was ready to talk about it. We need to highlight the difference — this is a pandemic, you cannot compare it to the simple flu. It’s a country’s fight, we should only have positive thoughts and abstain from spreading negativity and false information. But many individuals and institutions have used this time to spread negativity and they have weakened this fight against the pandemic. You must have seen the new delta variant, which is highly infectious, the whole world is grappling with it now. Even there, why is the variant not being controlled? Those countries had organised vaccination drives on a huge scale. No one is discussing this topic today. Why is there no reportage on the same from the media? There are constant efforts to tarnish the image of the country, we should have stopped these efforts, and strengthened the fight of the country. We should have fought under the leadership of our PM, and kept the fight against corona going. This should have been our national religion, to participate in this fight. But many people have only spread negativity and have undertaken that as a mission for themselves. They wanted to spread panic regarding the corona situation. Many specialists had declared that UP would have a disaster on its hands especially during May and June. Today, it’s 23 June and we only have 208 active positive cases in the state. Today, the district of Mahoba is entirely Covid-free. Today at least 12 districts in the state have zero positive cases. In 52 districts, positive cases are in single digits. In the state, we have one or two districts where the cases are in double digits. And this is the same state for which it was cited that May and June will have 3,50,000-4,00,000 active cases. Today there are 3,366 cases in the state. UP has a population of 22 crore and the number of deaths from March 2020 to till date — all these are very sad and we offer our condolences to the aggrieved families — is 22,000 people. If you compare with any big states, Delhi or even other countries, then you will realise that how we have worked to prevent the spread of corona. Phrases like ‘poor health infrastructure’ have been used for UP, which we had inherited from the last government. We had nothing with us, we had to start from scratch and today we have lifted the Corona curfew, and life and activities are all coming back to normal. Starting from 7 am and lasting till 9 pm, normal, regular work is being conducted. We have kept night curfew, and weekend curfew, for Saturday and Sunday, but all regular activities are taking place.
On whether Covid-19 deaths were underreported
Tell me, did non-Covid deaths stop altogether? During Covid, everyone’s prime focus was safety measures for Covid and to find a cure for this illness. We realised this, and that’s why we organised some non-covid hospitals in each of the districts. That’s why we started tele-consultations. I think this thing of underestimated numbers is wrong. We have the figures of people who were tested, then after the test did they show positive result? Then if they were in home isolation or if they were hospitalised, and if sadly they died, that has been documented on our portal. But if someone passed away at home because of non-covid reasons, that is not part of our portal. As the death was non Covid, we have not conducted any test, we conducted a test, the test reflected a negative result hence it is not part of our portal. If somebody developed post-covid symptoms and passed away because of that, even after getting a negative test result, they are also not part of the portal. As the person tested negative they were automatically shunted out of the portal, we repeatedly grilled this into all are hospitals. All the hospitals had to upload the data of whoever was testing positive for covid, the same was for people dying of Covid. The data had to be uploaded everyday. If by chance a health worker got infected and was unable to upload the data, we made provisions so that they could upload the data from wherever they were. We also held enquiries and in many places explanations were also needed. In September 2020, we controlled the epidemic and we organised these two big festivals in October in November. In August, in Ayodhya we also conducted the Ram Janambhoomi Shilaniyas was done by our Prime Minister. Then Devdeepavali was held in Varanasi, with about 10,00,000 people in attendance. February, we saw only 85 cases. In January, 2021 we issued 1,03,000 death certificates. In February the number of death certificates was 99,100. March had 70,797. What will you call this? Covid deaths? When there was no Covid, and we were conducting 1.5-2 lakh tests everyday, this was not a part of that. There can be many reasons for deaths — accidents, heart attacks, cancer, kidney failures etc, we should not link these things together. To hide the death figures is a sin in itself. But the question is while we are struggling with the epidemic, what do we do? Do we encourage and bolster the public, or do we spread panic and fear in them? If we present a picture — of a man going home, after recovering from Covid — will that picture not help in bolstering the morale of the general public? I was observing this, that how people were impacted by the constant negativity, that even when you are telling them ‘that you will get better, they kept insisting that ‘no I will die’. I was surprised by the panic and fearsome situation that was created. People were showing the pictures of cremation grounds, and then juxtaposing it with data from the hospital, and they would say, that look hospitals are saying so many deaths, but the cremation grounds have so many more. Someone who has died of natural causes, or due to some illness, they will also need to have their last rites conducted at a crematorium only, right, we can’t deny them that right. But that was used to spread fear and falsehoods, and all deaths were attributed to Covid alone. This created a situation of fear and panic, which was unnecessary.
On holding the Kumbh Mela
This was said for the elections as well. It was being said that the virus spread in UP because we held panchayat elections. At one point, someone said that the Election Commission should be hanged, and a case for murder should be registered against it. I want to ask you, did Delhi and Maharashtra have elections? Or did these states have the Kumbh mela? We need to educate ourselves more about the particular strain of the virus which was so virulent and infectious. Compared to the first wave, the virus of the second wave was 50 per cent more infectious. We need to accept that truth as well, and accordingly prepare the people for that truth, and safeguard them. For that, if we start playing around with our beliefs and faith, and start attacking constitutional institutions, that would be sheer injustice. This is a pandemic, one of the biggest of this century, and we need to fight this together. Our PM is leading us in this fight, right from the forefront. I feel we need to be responsible and we all need to participate in this collectively, as this will benefit humanity at large.
On the one thing he has changed systematically in UP
We have changed the overall perception about the state of Uttar Pradesh. We have incorporated a sense of security in the aam janta of the state. This is the same state which witnessed more than 300 big riots during the reign of the Samajwadi Party. Today, as we complete about four and a quarter years of our governance, we have not had a single riot. UP, which had faced the challenge of riots and violence in the past, is today free of them. Our judicial system is said to be the most stringent. We have done a lot for farmers, youth, women and labourers as well — basically we have done something for almost all strata of the population. For farmers, right from the exemption of loans, to the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and even procurement — in 2016, there was only 7,00,000 metric tonnes of wheat procured. We, on the other hand, have procured 56,00,000 metric tonnes of wheat, within the state of UP, and this is straight from the farmers, not the aadhatis. Even during this Covid era, we have kept our 119 sugar mills running. We bought sugarcane worth Rs 1.38 thousand crores. As per the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, we have made provisions to irrigate 20,000 hectares of land. These were plans for irrigation that have existed for the last 30-40 years, we are taking them forward. We had the goal of doubling the incomes of farmers, we are in pursuit of that goal. Around 4,00,000 lakh youngsters were gainfully employed by the UP government, in a completely transparent manner., 6,00,000 people were connected to the government through outsourcing. One and a half crore youngsters have been employed with the investment that we attracted through the ‘ease of doing business’ tag. 60,00,000 youths were connected to the various banking facilities and other schemes like the Mukhya Mantri Swarozgar Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Swarojgar Yojana, One district One Product scheme and Vishwakarma Shram Samman Yojana, to help them be gainfully self employed. Today, UP has the lowest unemployment rate, in spite of being the most populous state. It is the first state to have provided a medical insurance cover of Rs 5 lakhs for all labourers — be it pravasi or nivasi, along with a Rs 2 lakh social security cover. We also give them bharan-poshan bhatta. About 40,00,000 people have also been given houses,2,61,00,000 people have also now got access to toilets. All this had been done without a sense of discrimination. Now the UP government will go to the general public, armed with these achievements. Don’t worry, I will talk to you again, the same way, after the elections as well. BJP will win more than 300 seats in the UP elections, there is no doubt about that.
Nikhil Hawelia, MD, Hawelia Group and National Head, Labour Welfare Committee, CREDAI Youth Wing
In spite of the labour cess, there hasn’t been much improvement in the workers’ social status. The money wasn’t released even for the Covid-19 vaccination. What is the reason for this money to remain unavailable for promoting labour welfare?
Yogi Adityanath: We are making optimum utilisation of the labour cess money for registered workers. For instance, we gave bharan-poshan bhatta (maintenance allowance) from the labour cess to every registered labourer during the Covid-19 pandemic. But at the same time, we made an allowance available to the unregistered workers from our state budget. Also, in UP, we have 18 administrative divisions, in which we are making Atal Awasiya Vidyalaya (Atal Residential Schools) for labourers’ children, for them to get modern education and skill development. In those 10-15 acre campuses, we are developing facilities for food and lodging as well since the registered workers are always on the move and their children aren’t able to achieve education. Besides this, we are using the labour cess money for the weddings of the workers’ daughters.
Subho Ray, President, Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI)
What is that one strong message that you would want to give to the present and future investors?
Yogi Adityanath: UP is the best destination for investments. I can say it is the best environment for safety and ‘ease of doing business’. UP’s ranking at No.2 further proves that if India is the best destination for investment in the world, then within the country, UP holds that title. We either already have or are developing infrastructure, along with safety. We have land banks, and we are giving a complete guarantee of protection to every industrialist and investor. Nobody can exploit or cheat them.
Vikash Madhogaria, Chairman, Vikas Group of Industries
Where do you see India and Indians in the next 10 years?
Yogi Adityanath: I believe that under the Prime Minister’s guidance and vision, India is heading towards becoming the world’s biggest economic power. And UP will collaborate and contribute towards this vision for India.
Huma Hassan, Independent Director and faculty, Plutus IAS
What has the government done for the education for women, an area where there still hasn’t been much development?
Yogi Adityanath: For women empowerment, we have started Mukhyamantri Kanya Sumangala Yojana, which begins when a girl is born and continues till she becomes independent. A package of Rs 15,000 is given to a girl at different stages of her growth. Even for her wedding, the state government is preparing financial aid. Her education till graduation is free. There’s work that needs to be done with regard to women empowerment. UP was the first state which worked for women’s safety, because for 20 years, there was an unsafe environment in the state. Today that is not the situation. We’ve created anti-Romeo squads and Mission Shakti, wherein each of the 1,535 police stations now has women’s help desks. Under the Safe City Project, we have started a women helpline. At every level, steps are being taken to implement these, and through these schemes, we are not only providing benefits of safety but are also starting programmes for their independence. Today, the number of SSC officers in UP is the highest.
Neelkanth Mishra, co-head, APAC Strategy and India Equity Strategist, Credit Suisse
Your budget has shown that UP had 15 medical colleges in 2017 and you are planning to increase that figure to 61 by 2025. While a positive step, how can there be a quality control for these? Also, UP has become the second centre in India in terms of electronics production after the Deccan cluster. How do you plan to attract FDIs to the less-developed regions of the state?
Yogi Adityanath: From 1947 to 2016, there existed only 12 medical colleges in UP. And between 2017 and 2021, we are making 30 new government medical colleges. We have started recruitment and training simultaneously, so that, along with quality education, we are also looking into the extent to which good medical facilities can be provided – doctors, paramedics, nursing staff and technicians. With that, super-speciality training and skill development are also happening parallelly. This infrastructure has given us renewed strength to fight Covid-19, and it is the result of this that UP is close to successfully controlling the second wave.
UP is turning into an electronics hub and we have put policies in place towards that. It is true that right now most investment is happening in the NCR, the other regions are deprived in comparison, but in eastern UP, Bundelkhand, central UP, whether through land banks or incentive-oriented policies, all these are part of our policy to encourage investment. And investors are taking interest in that. IT parks are coming up, too.
Sanjay Pugalia, Editor, The Quint
In recent days, the talks have resurfaced to divide UP into three parts, to make the state smaller. What do you have to say about that in the run up to the state election next year?
Yogi Adityanath: There is no such proposal to divide UP into any parts. We have come to unite, not divide. The whole of UP, as one force, will work for 24 crore people’s safety and prosperity, and is also striving towards upgrading their lives.