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Center Should Provide Autonomy To States To Determine Norms At Local Level Instead Of Nationwide Common Directions: Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot

BW Businessworld’ s Manish Kumar Jha speaks with the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot on such critical issues.

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States are fighting Covid-19 under the twin pressure of economic hardship and the return of migrants and labourers to their native place. Along, Rajasthan now emerging new hotbed of COVID 19, CM points out the faulty Rapid Test Kits to the tune of 95 %. BW Businessworld’ s Manish Kumar Jha speaks with the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot on such critical issues.

Rajasthan’s Covid-19 case stands at 2328 now. What is the way forward?

The State Government is putting all the resources at its disposal to contain the spread of coronavirus. The total number of cases in Rajasthan (09.05.2020 till 9.00 am) is 3636. Out of which 2021 people have recovered fully, while 1771 people have been discharged from the hospitals. Over 1,52,245 samples have been collected (09.05.2020 till 9.00 am) for testing in the whole of Rajasthan.  

The death rate in Rajasthan from COVID-19 is much less than the national average. The rate of testing in Rajasthan perhaps the highest in the country after Kerala. We had procured Rapid Test Kits as per the ICMR guidelines and approval. Unfortunately, the Rapid Test Kits results were incorrect up to the tune of 95 %. If they had been of good quality, the rate of testing in Rajasthan would have been even higher. In addition to this, we have been successful in increasing daily PCR testing capacity from zero in the first week of March to 10 thousand per day in the first week of May, Our target is to bring the daily testing capacity level to 25 thousand per day. 

We firmly believe that we will be successful in checking the spread of disease very soon. Our aim is to strengthen health infrastructure in all districts so that testing and treatment of corona is provided in all district hospitals.

Along with this, another big challenge is how to restart industrial activities and bring back state economy on the track. 

As you have been engaging on the issues and leading from the front since the outbreak of Covid-19, could you talk about your experience and suggestions that may broaden the collective responsibility for other States in this fight?

Your assessment is fact-based that Rajasthan has been at the forefront in the war against Covid-19. The steps taken by the State Government to contain the spread of coronavirus have been appreciated not only in India but in the other countries also. The Bhilwara Model is one such example.  

Our experience that we have gained in war against corona, is that curfew should be strictly enforced in the affected areas and the area should be sealed (except essential services). Secondly, extensive testing should be resorted to, so that not a single case remains undetected.

Thirdly I would like to emphasise that the poor and needy persons should not remain hungry in any of the days in every state. Besides special care should be taken to ensure that the morale of corona warriors be maintained.

Your initiatives for the migrant workers have been an effective model. Will the migrant workers from other states in Rajasthan be retained? And, how you would plan to bring migrant workers from other states to Rajasthan? 

Currently, we are into the 3rd phase of lockdown up to 17th May 2020. The long period of lockdown has created a restlessness among the migrant labourers of Rajasthan who have gone to other states for work in large numbers and now they all want to go back to their homes. I had requested the Central Government many times to help facilitate their return. The Central Government had acceded to the request and have issued orders for the return of migrants and labourers to their native place.  

Special trains were required to be made operational for the purpose. I am happy that ultimately the Government of India had acceded to our request and have started operating special trains for shifting of stranded migrant labourers etc. On our part, the state has created an online platform to register the migrant labourers who wish to come to Rajasthan and also who wanted go out of state. Over 18.76 lakh people have registered till 8th May 2020, out of which 10.64 lakh want to come from outside of Rajasthan while 8.12 lakh people want to go out of Rajasthan. 

The registered number is very high and the government of India guidelines allow only stranded migrant labours, tourist, pilgrims, students and others. The number of trains made available is very limited and consent of other states is essential for any such transportation, either way, hence I believe the shifting is going to happen in a phased manner and only for the ones who are stranded and not for others who might have registered but are not stranded. Till date, we have been able to ensure to and fro movement of almost 4 lakh stranded labourers etc. 

With Prime Minister, you raised the issue of States’ autonomy to decide on criteria for economic and industrial activities as per the circumstances of the state. Could you elaborate on this?

It is very necessary to restart economic activities, trade and industries in the phased manner under modified lockdown. The local circumstances of each state are different and likewise, the spread of disease and the situation of hot spots is also different in every state. In such a situation the Central Government should provide autonomy to states to determine norms at the local level instead of nationwide common directions so that more and more industries are enabled to re-start their operations with a certain level of ease. In any case, the economic revival has now become a challenge of unforeseen scale. It would require collective efforts of centre and states for a fairly long period. 

What are your suggestions for the economic package for Covid-19? What is the way to address the plight of India’s MSMEs and more than 11 crore workers affected?

The economy of the whole county has received a severe jolt because of lockdown and it has become very difficult for the states to survive on their own. 

I had put forward 15 important suggestions to the Prime Minister as a follow up of the VC held on 27th April, 2020. The main suggestions include:

•             An economic package for all states, Package for trade and industry, the scheme for payment of lockdown period salaries by the trade and industries to their workers.

•             Ceiling of Loans to the states be increased from 3 % of   GDP to 5 %  of GDP, 6 months interest-free moratorium on the repayment of loans from central agencies, exemptions in interest on wage and means advance.

•             Immediate Release of GST compensation of payable to the States. 

•             Centralized procurement of medical equipment etc. by GOI/ICMR and making them available to the states as per their requirements. 

•             Selection of beneficiaries of food security on the basis of an estimated population of the year 2019-20 in place of the census of 2011.

I feel strongly that a stimulus package should be announced immediately by the Central Government. This should also be coupled with vital policy decisions in the interest of the states.  

In the past, Rajasthan has attracted south East Asian companies to set up their base.  Amid the crisis, there are opportunities for attracting global investors – fleeing China – to set up their economic activity in India. How do you look at such possibilities and investment in Rajasthan and if you have a message for such investors in terms of immediate policy/ measures?

The State has always taken effective steps to attract investments whether indigenous or foreign, but the corona pandemic has adversely affected the industries and trade sectors. 

At present, our focus is only on two things. Firstly, to fight effectively against this pandemic and secondly to ensure factories and industries resume their operations smoothly. This, in turn, would also ensure that people resume their employment. Facilitation of the new investors would be taken care of once we are past this pandemic phase. 

A task force will be constituted shortly to examine the issue of facilitating all such industries intending to come from china to Rajasthan.

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