Two days after Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said the state may go in for another lockdown, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh Saturday said the decision on lockdown in the state would depend on the situation but he was prepared to take whatever steps needed to control the Covid spread.
“It is in your hands,” he told a Ludhiana resident during the #AskCaptain Facebook Live session on a question that Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu was indicating lockdown in the state. He said, “If we are able to control the pandemic then there would be no need for lockdown but if it goes out of control then we have no choice. Lockdowns were imposed for the safety of Punjab’s people. I will not let my Punjabis and my children contract COVID,” he added.
With the coronavirus cases spreading across the country, the CM said the norm of wearing mask in public had to be strictly adhered to. He appealed to the people of Punjab not to violate this and other safety protocols, and said there should be no need for challans on this count as everyone should act responsibly. He pointed out that on Friday alone, 4,024 people were challaned for not wearing masks and 45 for spitting in public. Not wearing masks or following social distance norms or spitting were anti-social actions, he said, urging people to be cautious and follow all protocols and the advice of medical experts to check the cases from escalating further.
To ramp up testing
Noting with concern that experts had projected Punjab’s peak to be still some time away, Amarinder said the state could not afford to be lax in any way. On its part, the state government was increasing testing, he said, adding, in response to a question from a Hoshiarpur resident, that testing in Punjab would go up to 20,000 a day by the end of this month. He agreed with the questioner that the lower testing in Punjab, as compared to Delhi, had to be addressed, and said that four more testing labs had already been approved by his Cabinet, which will help scale up testing two-fold over the next few days.
Buses to ply with 100 PC Capacity
Amid the spiralling increase in fuel prices which had made public transportation unviable, Amarinder announced lifting of the restrictions on the passenger capacity in all buses, including mini-buses, but made it clear that masks would have to be mandatorily worn by all those travelling in the buses.
The state government had earlier allowed plying of buses with 50% capacity on account of the Covid crisis.
At Saturday’s #AskCaptain edition on Facebook Live, the CM said he had learnt that buses were refusing to ply with restricted capacity due to the financial losses it entails, especially in the current situation when the prices of petrol and diesel are going up on a daily basis. This was causing problems to the commuters, he added, but stressed the need to strictly adhere to the mandatory wearing of masks, which can reduce the spread of Covid by 70%.
Overcharging by private Hopsitals
To a question on overcharging of Covid patients by private hospitals, the CM said the state government was in the process of fixing the rates. Members of the medical association wanted to meet him to discuss the issue, he said, adding that while he would be meeting them, he would definitely not allow profiteering in the state at the cost of the people’s lives and health in these testing times. He pointed out that all treatment and medicines for Covid were being provided free of cost in government hospitals.
Asked for a decision on cancellation of examinations in universities and colleges, as had already been announced by some states, the CM said the Vice-Chancellors will be meeting the Education Department, which will also seek the University Grant Commission’s directions in the matter. The final decision will be taken within two -three days accordingly, he said, in response to a question by a Gurdaspur student seeking cancellation of GNDU examinations.
In response to a Ludhiana resident’s request for cancellation of online classes to provide summer vacations in schools, the CM said the vacations had already been adjusted against the time lost due to the lockdown and no more holidays could be given.
Stressing the importance of continued education in the highly competitive world of today, he told another questioner that he wanted every Punjabi kid to study and the schools would reopen as soon as the current crisis was over.
To a request for opening of gyms, the CM said the decision was in the hands of the Central government since the National Disaster Management Act was in force. Observing that he had received 1,700 questions on this issue, he pointed out that chances of contamination were high in gyms. He advised the youngsters to exercise in the open till it was safe to open the gyms.
Responding to a concern expressed by a Pathankot resident of all depositors losing their hard-earned money in the Hindu Cooperative Bank, Amarinder said the department had already deputed an officer to probe the matter. He assured the depositors that their investment would stay safe.
On long power cuts in Abohar, he said he will ask the Electricity Board for details and resolve the problem.
When a Punjabi living in Canada requested that the chimneys at the Bathinda power plant should not be dismantled but should be handed over to the Heritage Department, the CM promised to look into it and said the state government was also keen to protect the heritage.
Follow your heart, CM Tells SAD
He asked the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to set their political compulsions aside and follow their heart in the interest of the state and its farmers on the issue of the farm sector ordinances of the Central government.
Recalling that he had made the same plea to the Akalis during the all-party meeting, the CM lamented that the SAD was not realising the grave implications of these ordinances and was putting its political interests before the interests of the state. He warned that if the SAD continues to put its political interests above those of the state, it would end up ruining Punjab.
Stressing that there should be no politics when it came to issues of Punjab’s interests, Amarinder recalled that, during his first tenure as the chief minister, he had abrogated the water agreements with neighbouring states to save Punjab’s water from being taken out via the proposed SYL canal. Not only had he gone against his own party on the issue, but had put his entire career on stake with this move, he recalled, adding that “Punjab’s interests are paramount for him, as they should be for the Akalis too”.
Pointing out that the three ordinances in question are based on the recommendations of the Shanta Kumar committee, which had advocated end of MSP and dismantling of FCI, the CM said if the ordinances are allowed to be passed and enacted, the Centre will get the green signal to interfere in the state subject of agriculture for all times. It will encourage the Government of India to go ahead and take whatever decisions they want on the subject, including implementing all recommendations of the Shanta Kumar committee, he said.
While the ordinances may not have explicitly mentioned the MSP regime, it was clear that they would pave the way for abolition of MSP, warned Amarinder, adding that the all-party meeting had been convened by him to evolve a consensus against the anti-Punjab and anti-farmer steps taken by the Central government.
The CM once again urged the SAD chief to stop indulging in politics on this issue of critical interest to the state, and stand with the state government in protecting the people and farmers of Punjab from the devastating impact of the ordinances.
Instead of backtracking on his party’s support to two of the three points of the resolution adopted at the all-party meeting, Sukhbir should, in fact, come out in support of the entire resolution, in letter and in spirit, said Amarinder. Pointing out that the Akalis had always promoted the spirit of federalism, he further urged Sukhbir to join hands with the state government in ensuring that the federal structure embodied in the Indian Constitution is not allowed to be destroyed.
Extension for application for mini Bus permit
Amarinder announced extension of the deadline for applying for mini-bus permits till July 15.
The last date for submitting the applications under the scheme, aimed at breaking the monopoly of the existing bus operators while also providing employment opportunity for jobless youth, was June 30.
Applications have been invited by the state government for permits covering more than 1,400 rural routes. The Punjab & Haryana High Court had on Tuesday rejected the plea of the existing private mini- bus operators for a stay on receipt of applications.
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