Chhattisgarh has recorded more than 3,000 Covid-19 cases, and the monsoons and financial crunch are additional stresses on the system. State Health Minister and senior Congress leader T S Singh Deo speaks to Gargi Verma about the challenges ahead and the government’s efforts to tackle them.
What are the challenges for the state in dealing with the pandemic? What are we doing to meet these challenges?
With a large number of migrants coming back to the state, we are ramping up our tests and testing facility. Initially, the expectation was 1.5-2 lakh, but now, we estimate 7 lakh people have come to the state. With so many people coming from affected areas, the numbers in the state will definitely increase. Our concern is to minimise the deaths, which means that early detection is the key. Beyond that, our worry is community spread. To stop that, we are requesting all individuals to cooperate. All individuals have to actively participate, being a corona warrior. We are also ramping up testing facilities. New testing centres are being made in Rajnandgaon, Bilaspur and Ambikapur, and we have put out tenders for rapid testing kits and other equipment.
Seven lakh people have returned, how are we going to deal with them, and ensure they are earning?
So far, the state government has met with the task of providing employment in villages through panchayat department and MGNREGA. It is beyond expectation, as we are now currently topping the country in numbers. Of the total number of families that have worked 100 job days, Chhattisgarh has a 41% share. This is why we have written constantly to the central government to increase the number of job days from 100 to 200. If 55,000 families in Chhattisgarh have already completed their 100 days in MGNREGA, where will they get sustenance in the coming months? We have completed 67%-70% of our yearly targets, and will certainly be exceeding that. For the remaining six months, barring the three farming months, we will need double the amount of money from the Centre, over what they have sent till June. They must at least do it for the Covid times, for a couple of years to address reverse migration. There are some provisions of 51 days from FRA for some people, then the government of Chhattisgarh had instituted another 50 days, which is very difficult to be pulled through under the financial constraints. If the central government doesn’t pitch in, it will be very difficult to care for the 7 lakh who have returned.
How is the healthcare system holding up? Are there any benefits planned for healthcare workers?
Our healthcare workers have stood up to the challenge and are working non-stop. Even now, with a rise in cases, the number of people occupying beds is below 700. The number of people recovered is higher on most days than cases coming in. We had prepared for worse projections, so unless we reach those numbers, the state healthcare infrastructure will hold. Our proposals of monetary incentives for healthcare workers are pending due to financial constraints. The CM in the cabinet meeting had said that if any healthcare worker dies, they would be given compensation, but the incentive in pay over and above what they are getting hasn’t been decided, although we have written to the CMO
What is happening on the GST front? How is there growth from last year, despite a lockdown?
The arrears of last year’s share of Rs 1,160 crore of compensation were given to us this month, indicating a 1.35% growth from last year’s quarter. While everything has plummeted, to a third of last year’s collection, due to lockdown… any money this year will certainly help. The central government, however, is not helping, by increasing the prices of petrol and diesel. They have increased the excise rates 18 times, without thinking about the state government’s share, and despite the low cost internationally. Before the states can increase their share, asking the customers to help us to help them, the central government has gone ahead increasing the price and only their share, which is shortsighted.
What are the challenges along with Covid-19, especially in rural areas, in the monsoon months?
More than 5 lakh migrant workers have already finished quarantine till July. Pressure has come on many panchayats to make provision from their budget, which is unfair on them. The central government not only left people in the lurch during lockdown, but also didn’t make any provision for the migrants who walked thousands of kilometres to return, for their health check-up and food. Regular fund of the panchayats has been subsumed by Covid activities. The state government can only provide employment. The health department has taken up an ambitious malaria eradication programme, as in Bastar, the casualty might be higher due to malaria than Covid. The state also performed exceptionally well in the vaccination drive, coming second only to Odisha. We had a drop in institutionalised deliveries due to lockdown, but now slowly and steadily that is coming back to normal.
Rumours of dissonance between you and the CM have come forth. The Opposition has claimed that there are differences between groups in the Congress, which might lead to the government breaking down. Your comments?
All departments under me have performed well nationally. If anyone is coming in the way, there would not be such a performance. There is no hindrance by the CM. The working or the outcome is not affected. The CM has asked me to attend all GST Council meetings. We do interact and I am entrusted with important work. Some things appear different from what they are. The work is taken care of, which is the important part for the government. Chhattisgarh Congress government breaking down is impossible, as we have very comfortable numbers. We are all working as a team committed to the high command. The high command decides what happens when and we follow through.
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