The Chhattisgarh government has home-quarantined around 39,000 people and announced a slew of measures to help the poor hit hard by the lockdown imposed to check the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Bhupesh Baghel, the Chhattisgarh chief minister, spoke to Aurangzeb Naqshbandi about the measures like free distribution of rice and cash assistance his government has taken to help them tide over the crisis. Edited excerpts:
How are you coping with this crisis?
We announced the lockdown on March 24 and sealed our borders with Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha. Every month, we give free 35 kg of rice to poor families. There are 6.5 million families in Chhattisgarh with BPL [below poverty line] and APL [above poverty line] ration cards covering around 24.4 million people. We are giving two months [April and May] free ration to all the poor families. There are just seven positive cases in our state and barring one all had come from abroad.
What steps are you taking to keep the situation under control?
We have put in isolation or under home-quarantine around 39,000 people who came from outside--whether from abroad or from other states... We have 2,780 beds in quarantine centres. As of now, there are 254 people in quarantine centres. As many as 19 people are hospitalised. Out of 376 samples sent for testing, seven tested positive and 369 negative. We have also set-up helpline numbers to enable people to contact officials whenever required. We have not only enforced a strict lockdown across the state but also ensured that whoever came from outside is home-quarantined.
What is your government doing for migrant workers being forced to walk back to their native places amid the national lockdown?
We had at the outset asked the owners of industries to ensure food and shelter for their workforce since the factories are shut. And where they are not forthcoming, the district administration is providing free ration and accommodation to the migrant workers. We have also kept at least 2 quintal of rice in every panchayat of the state for those who cannot afford it. But we are facing issues when it comes to workers from other states. Like the other day at Sarguja, our officials intercepted a container which was on its way to Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh from Ranchi in Jharkhand. We asked the collector to stop them and ensure food and shelter for them. Then another truck with workers coming from Odisha was stopped at Kanker. We are providing cash assistance to the workers from Chhattisgarh stuck in other states. I have also spoken to chief ministers of different states in this regard.
Amid allegations of police atrocities from across the country during the enforcement of the lockdown, how are you addressing this issue?
They [police] are also human beings. They have to maintain law and order and ensure a complete lockdown to prevent the spread of the pandemic. At times, the people also go out of control. Like in Jagdalpur on March 24 at 9 pm, people came on the roads after clapping, ringing bells and clanging utensils. On the second day, they again came on the roads thinking the coronavirus is gone. So, we had to take strict measures. At some places, police had to resort to a mild cane-charge to enforce the lockdown. We have also registered cases against some people for violating the restrictions. When people come on the streets in large numbers, what can the police do? I am not taking sides but we have also issued strict instructions to them to allow people to buy medicines and essentials so that they do not face any hardships. Also among 2 million farmers, we are going to distribute the Rs 5,100 crore we have allocated under the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojna.
Are you getting help from the Centre?
It is like 'oont ke munh mei jeera' [a popular idiom to describe inadequacy of assistance]. We have to understand the pandemic will have a huge impact on our economy. It will also take time to restart the factories and plants that have been shut and return to normal. The central government should liberally help the states to tide over the crisis. We also do not know how long this [lockdown] will continue and a lot depends on whether the pandemic will be contained.