It has been over a month since the COVID-19 outbreak managed to disrupt the lives of citizens. While the authorities have been forced to put in restrictions to check the spread of the deadly virus, the collateral damage has been the debilitating impact on the economy and livelihoods of people, especially in lower-income class categories.
In this interview with Moneycontrol, Bhupesh Baghel, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, speaks about his strategy to contain the outbreak and the way ahead.
Q. How is Chhattisgarh coping with the COVID-19 outbreak?
A. The moment the state government received information about the spread of COVID-19, it started preparations to combat it by forming a rapid response team in all districts on January 27. The screening was started on January 28 at the airport and the isolation hospital has been operational from February 1. Before any other state, Chhattisgarh was the first to take spontaneous decision of sealing borders with other states. We even announced lockdown much before the nationwide lockdown. These measures helped us to control the spread of COVID-19 to a great extent. There are 28 districts in Chhattisgarh and 23 districts have not reported any outbreak. There are currently 12 active corona positive cases in the state. They are all from the same district. Out of a total of 36 positive cases, 24 have recovered. The situation in our state is under control compared to other states.
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Q. What will be your strategy to open up businesses post-lockdown?
A. The state has abundance of steel, cement and coal-based industries. In order to bring the country's economy back on track, it is necessary to operate these industries smoothly. The state government will provide all facilities to steel, cement and coal-based industries so that they can resume production. We have also requested the central government to provide relief package to these industries. I am confident that in the next few months, these industries will be back on track.
Q. How are you planning to ease the problems being faced by daily wage earners and migrant labourers?
A. There is no doubt that this section of the society is facing the brunt of lockdown. We have been taking all possible measures to help them in our state. I have always reiterated that I will not let anyone sleep hungry in Chhattisgarh. In Chhattisgarh, we have given two months of ration free to 56 lakh families. Not only this, we have also given one month's ration to those who do not even have ration cards. We have made arrangements of food and shelter at temporary camps for about 33,000 migrant workers and have taken various measures for farmers as well. We are providing them help under the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana and soon money will be transferred to their accounts.
Q. How are you helping those associated with forests?
A. Chhattisgarh is also a region of forest abundance. We have started the process of purchasing small forest produce at the support price. This will provide employment to forest dwellers. We will also start work under MNREGA in all districts as soon as the lockdown opens. Instructions have also been given to maintain social distancing while working.
Q. Are you offering Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to farmers?
A. Yes, we are planning on the same. Under the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyaya Yojana in Chhattisgarh, we are going to disburse cash to about 20 lakh farmers. This will help them tide over this difficult period.
Q. Even after bringing COVID-19 under control, there is a risk of cases reappearing as there is no vaccine as yet. How do you plan to improve the state's health infrastructure to tackle this problem?
A. We are paying special attention to this aspect. Our priority is to provide better health infrastructure in each district of the state. We have also got the permission to open new medical colleges and we are taking steps towards strengthening these services in tribal areas. We have already launched Suposhan Chhattisgarh Abhiyaan to improve immunity of people. Haat Bazaar Clinic Scheme is one such step towards taking health services to remote areas. We are also providing insurance cover to every section of the society in Chhattisgarh through Dr Khubchand Baghel Health Insurance Scheme and Chief Minister Special Health Scheme.
Q. What kind of assistance have you received from the Centre and what more are you expecting?
A. We are getting help from the Centre in some areas and we are hopeful that the it will provide assistance to state governments in many other areas also. Right now, the priority is to curb the spread of COVID-19. It will be a long fight and for this, we not only have to generate new resources but also preserve the existing resources for longer time. The Centre will have to provide financial assistance to states. I have also written a letter to Prime Minister, requesting him to provide relief package to states.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak here