In an exclusive chat with The Daily Guardian, Union Jal Shakti Minister, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat spoke on various issues—from the way India is fighting the coronavirus pandemic and is enhancing its medical capabilities to the politics being played in his home state Rajasthan and in West Bengal.
Q: When the rest of the world is not being able to contain the deadly coronavirus, India is doing a much better job of dealing with it. What are the reasons that India is faring well where the more advanced countries have failed miserably?
A: All the countries that used to set the world’s narrative, all the countries that used to boast that they had the best healthcare system— all of them have been decimated. Compared to that, we are in a situation where we have the least mortality rate, and in proportion to our population the number of corona positive cases is also low. Our graph is almost flattened and our doubling rate is also very good. And all this is because of the timely steps taken by our Prime Minister and this government. When this corona problem started go ing from China to other countries, we took immediate steps. The second the first corona positive came, we took all the steps possible to contain it. From the first case on 30 January till today, it has been 87 days— compared to us, analyse the situation in any other country on their 87th day. We had one laboratory in January and now we have more than 330 laboratories. There was not one factory which could make PPE and we would import it. Today more than 100 companies are making PPEs. We are making 1 lakh PPE kits daily. And if we count the number of proposals in the pipeline, then the number of companies would double to 200 and we might become the second country after China to become the largest manufacturers of PPE kits. It’s the same story with ventilators, N95 masks and other stuff. If we talk of pharmaceuticals, then India has emerged as the “Dhanvantri” of the world, where we have supplied medicines to 55 countries, including superpowers like America. But to top it, as the Prime Minister said in his “Mann Ki Baat”, the kind of commitment with which people have cooperated (with the government) is nothing but exemplary.
Q: You are part of a highpowered Group of Ministers (GOM), what is the road ahead?
A: One thing is for sure that the menace of this virus is going to stay for a long time. So we have to make some permanent changes in our behaviour. As the Prime Minister said that the only way is, do gaj doori. We have to imbibe this mantra for a long time. We have to strike a balance between life and livelihood. We cannot have a lockdown forever, but we can definitely adopt a safety protocol, be it personal hygiene or social distancing or wearing a mask. These have to be made permanent so that we can save ourselves, our family and our nation.
Q: What is the Jal Shakti Ministry up to during the time of lockdown?
A: After the relaxation, our ministry has been in touch with various states and some work related to water ministry has started.
Q: You are Member of Parliament from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. How are you helping the people of Rajasthan who are stranded outside their state?
A: This is a very difficult time. I understand their pain. Even people related to me are stuck in other places. The day lockdown was announced, we generated a helpline number and we answered every call that came and tried to help as many people as possible. I would like to appeal to the people who are still stranded that they should be patient—for their state and their country.
Q: The Bhilwara model has been much celebrated in the fight against coronavirus. How is the fight against corona going on in your state?
A: The situation in Bhilwara was different. A doctor couple had come from abroad and had contracted coronavirus. They got themselves admitted and all the people who were in touch with them were traced and then treated. If there is anyone I would like to thank, it is the people of Bhilwara. The kind of commitment which was shown by them in abiding with the curfew, the way the local administration handled things, no wonder Bhilwara entered the green zone. But the same government which was claiming success in Bhilwara failed miserably in Jodhpur and Jaipur because they were in a state of complacency. The state couldn’t impose either curfew or lockdown in these places properly. People in the Rajasthan government should seriously introspect as to why the government, which was successful in Bhilwara, failed in Jaipur, Jodhpur, Tonk and Ajmer.
Q: Do you think that there are differences of opinion between the states and Centre on this?
A: Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi we have always believed in the principle of cooperative federalism. The PM has held four meetings with CMs to listen to their points of view. We are one in this fight, but I feel that a few people sitting in the state government are viewing this as an opportunity to do politics, which is extremely unfortunate. It is extremely unfortunate that even in my state some incidents like this happened. One MLA, in a crowded gathering not only defied the curfew, but then asked the crowd who was better—Modi or Gehlot! If an old woman says that Modi is better then she is asked to go away and light diya. Nothing can be more unfortunate than this. The Rajasthan Health Minister’s behaviour is unpardonable. He misquoted the Prime Minister with reference to an ex CM. I challenged him to prove it (the statement) in 24 hours or apologise. I also asked the CM to condemn him. This is extremely unfortunate.
Q: One more state is alleging that the Centre is violating the federal spirit of the Constitution and that state is West Bengal.
A: This is extremely unfortunate but as I said, the time is not ripe to discuss such a thing. Right now, we are one and are fighting against the coronavirus. The state you mentioned, people there too are watching all developments closely. And in future when the time comes, people will give them a befitting reply