Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister and Pradesh Congress Committee president Sachin Pilot explains the work the state government is doing to fight Covid-19.
Q: You have shown the way of reviving rural economy by giving a 10-fold jump in MNREGA job statistics—60,000 to 11 lakh. What can be the other ideas to give a boost to rural economy in Rajasthan amid the corona crisis?
A: As we work hard to contain the spread of coronavirus and mitigate the harm it is causing, we have to breathe life back into the economy simultaneously. Only by putting more money into the hands of people, can we reignite our consumption-based economy. Today the number of people getting employment through MNREGA in Rajasthan stands at 17 lakh. To further boost our rural economy, we should open up all agricultural-related activities while taking all precautions of social distancing etc. Also, we should extend easy financing to self help groups (SHGs) and cooperative societies in rural areas. Food processing and related industries should get all possible help.
Q: Please share the behind-the-scene story which was a driving force for implementing such a strong initiative? You were on field giving tips to villagers about social distancing etcwere they receptive to such tips, what was the on-spot scenario there?
A: When the country was in lockdown with industries remaining shut and people getting laid off, there was no better way to provide livelihood to people in rural areas than to get them work under the MNREGA. I realised that it’ll be some time before factories and shopfloors would be functional again, so we decided that encouraging people to take up individual works like constructing your own home, tilling your own land under the MNREGA would be an ideal way to help lakhs of poor households. 80 per cent of the works being done in this scheme are individual works that help the beneficiaries. I did some field visits to boost the morale of the department employees, officials and also to see if proper precautions of social distancing, hygiene and sanitisation were being undertaken.
Q: Is the state government working in coordination with PCC to battle COVID crisis? Are there mutual discussions and meetings being held to find a way-out to the present crisis in state?
A: In these challenging times, everyone is singularly focused of battling the COVID crisis. The government, party, NGOs, individuals each and each one of us is contributing to fight this challenge. As PCC president, I have formed a control room at every district headquarter to coordinate the relief efforts of providing ration kits, medical equipment, masks, hand sanitisers etc so that no needy person goes without help.
Q: What is your idea to boost the economy during present and postCovid-19 days?
A: We need to add liquidity into our system. More money should be infused into the economy. The US has pumped in USD 2 trillion since the Covid crisis. As confidence and consumption levels are low, banks and financial institutions should be asked to be more liberal. This crisis may also provide a good opportunity for us to undertake long awaited reforms. Since sometimes starting from scratch gives us a chance to recreate something bigger, better and more beneficial. So – reform, recreate and revive! Government should extend the benefits of historically low oil prices to the common man. Many people have predicted that China will face a backlash and a lot of investment will shift out of that country. India should be well placed and well prepared to be a strong alternative destination for investment flows. Manufacturing and services can get a big boost if we are able to position ourselves appropriately.
Q: Recently, a committee has been forced to ensure smooth solution of migration crisis in the state. Do you think the crisis was not handled properly? What could have been the way out?
A: When the lockdown was announced, I think not enough thought was given on how to manage the millions of migrant workers. The most poor and the most destitute among us were left to fend for themselves. They were out of jobs, out of money and unable to travel. Government should have had a clear policy of identifying, screening and transporting all those who wished to go back to their homes. When the government failed to do this and then started charging rail fare for those traveling back on trains Sonia Gandhi did the right thing by coming to the aid of the migrant workers by offering to pay for their travel. We have formed a special committee of senior party leaders to identify and help all the migrant labourers to get back to their homes. We are extensively using technology and mobile apps for this exercise.
Q: On March 24, when lockdown was imposed in Rajasthan, seven districts were affected by COVID-19 with cumulative number of 32 positive cases. However, as of today, 30 districts have been hit hard by the virus taking the total tally to 3,240. Do you think lockdown was effectively implemented in the state?
A: We have tried to take all possible measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Rajasthan. While it’s true that number of positive cases has gone up especially in Jaipur and Jodhpur, we also have one of the highest recovery rates in the country. This is due to the fact that a lot of the positive cases are in the age bracket of 18-40 years and their immune systems are able to overcome the infection. We are also focusing on increasing our capacity for testing.
Q: What should be the way out for stricter implementation of lockdown. Are you working on any new strategy? Please share it.
A: We just cannot afford to let down our guard in those areas that have a high concentration of positive cases. These Red zones need to remain completely isolated. The curfew and lockdown lose their sanctity if there is any breach whatsoever. We need to have zero tolerance for violations. All essentials services should be provided at the doorstep in these zones. And absolutely no movement should be allowed. Enforcement has to be done in totality, else we are looking at an ever larger risk of community spread. I think besides the police, law enforcement agencies and administration, we should also engage with local representatives, religious leaders and influential individuals to motivate people to follow the guidelines and lockdown norms.