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Determine To Redefine The Growth Model Amidst This Economic Crisis By Pushing Manufacturing & Trading Units: Gujarat CM, Vijay Rupani

BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha in a special edition on States' measures & economic policies for Covid-19, spoke with Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani over the phone. Issues ranging from labour to MSME and export amid the hope for flattening the Covid-19 curve, he is talking his way forward for an economic recovery.

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With total cases to 3,301, Gujarat is worst hit from the virus after Maharashtra in terms of number of cases as well as deaths. What is the way forward for you? What has been discussed with PM today?

The infection of coronavirus is limited in certain hotspots of the state. Though the number of cases have risen in the past few weeks, but these are due to high number of tests being done by the health officials. We have done more than 53000 tests so far in the state, and numbers of tests per million is rising each day. With the addition of more approved labs in Gujarat, we are able to do more than 3000 tests per day on an average for the last 10 days. And this aggressive testing is the way forward. 

Our strategy is multi-pronged. First, we identified the hotspots and sealed them under cluster containment strategy. Second is the aggressive testing in the highly infected areas to be able to identify the infected people and isolate them, to contain the spread of the virus. For instance, in an intensive door-to-door testing drive in Ahmedabad, we put more than 750 teams of health officials for 7 consecutive days in the hotspots areas of Ahmedabad, while in Surat, we used 666 teams to conduct a similar door-to-door drive in hotspots for 3 days. We are hopeful that soon you will see a flattening of the COVID19 cases curve, and we will be able to contain the spread. 

The third step is proper treatment of the infected people. For this, we have started dedicated COVID19 hospitals across the state. In fact, we were the first state to open COVID19 hospitals with a cumulative capacity of 2200-beds in our four major cities in March itself. 

Today, we have more than 61 COVID19 hospitals, including 31 private hospitals where the treatment expenses are borne by the government, with a capacity of 10,500 beds with 1500 ICU beds and 1500 ventilators. Very soon, we will expand the capacity to 22,500 beds, including 10,000 beds in Covid Care Centres.

At the same time, we are ensuring that the lockdown is followed stringently. Our Police is ensuring that people step out only in case of essentials. We have, however, not let this lockdown affect our supplies of essential items. Food grains, food items, fruits, vegetables, milk, medicines and other medical supplies are available in sufficient quantity across the state. Through a strong supply-chain mechanism, we have ensured that the shelves of shop owners have enough supplies and people are able to access them. The issues were discussed in detail with the Prime Minister.

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 response for other States in this fight?

This pandemic is a humbling experience. While we have ensured strict norms to follow the lockdown and restricted the movement of people, the spread of the virus did increase. Due to strong infrastructure and effective planning, we are able to face this unprecedented challenge. But, at the same time, it is also the support of the people of Gujarat, who are religiously following the rules of the lockdown. Out weapon in this challenging time is to unite by staying indoors and maintaining social distancing. Entire government machinery is dedicated to support the citizens.

These are also the times where the human spirit is being tested. We should be optimistic about our future, and face this challenge by preparing well. Proactive measures like readying COVID19 dedicated hospitals, timely step-up in the production of medicines like Hydroxychloroquine, local manufacturing of ventilators and screening people with travel history and quarantining them has helped us fight this pandemic. 

Our meticulous planning, effective administration and cooperation from the people also contributed immensely in ensuring uninterrupted supply of essentials for the citizens. We realized much earlier that any shortage of essentials could create a panic situation and we have been successful in avoiding that. Without doubt, I can say that the commitment of my officers and the support of the people have been instrumental in our fight against COVID19.

How  do you plan to boost health infrastructure – immediate and long terms perspective? 

The infrastructure of healthcare and medical services in Gujarat is world-class, the foundation of which was laid by our Prime Minister. In the past 15 years, we have increased our capacity from eight medical colleges with 1,125 seats, to 29 medical colleges and 5,500 medical seats. However, this is not the only criteria. During the same period, we have built world-class OPD centre at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital and various speciality hospitals dedicated to heart, kidney and cancer in Gujarat. 

The inception of Mukhyamantri Amrutam (MA) and MA Vatsalya Yojana exemplified the noble commitment of the state government towards the health and welfare of our citizens. With these schemes, Gujarat government has been able to provide healthcare coverage for cashless medical and surgical treatments to more than 76 lakh families. In all, we have designed an effective response system to deal with widespread diseases through an efficient healthcare staff who have established a mass outreach mechanism. Nonetheless, COVID-19 is a pandemic situation and requires a special set of preparation for the country, and Gujarat is no exception.

However, our response of readying dedicated 2200-bed COVID19 hospitals in four major cities within a week demonstrates our agility in challenging times. And as the long-term perspective, we want to improve it further to be able to spring back soon in the face of adversity.

The Gujarat Government announced the export oriented industrial units located in cities across the state can resume operations if they have received export orders. What are the guidelines under the circumstances?

Gujarat contributes around 20% to India’s total exports. We are aware that the demand in the recent times may go down and the trade may take a hit. It was imperative that the existing export orders be met amidst the increasing risk of cancellation altogether. Hence our government decided to support and operationalize the export units to fulfill their impending export orders.

Government issued a notification on 23rd April allowing the Exporting industries in SEZs, Industrial Estate/industrial townships and EOUs having export orders in Municipal Corporation and Municipal areas but outside of Containment Zones. Other units were allowed to function on 20th April itself. This step will benefit nearly 5,000 export - oriented units in the state. These are being supported by the district level committees. In addition a dedicated state level control room at Industries Commissionerate has been set up to facilitate and monitor the commencement of industrial activities in rural areas and permitted sectors as defined in the MHA guidelines.

We are following a focused approach in restoring normalcy and in bringing back thousands of labors/ employees to their jobs.

What is your suggestion 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 strength of Government of Gujarat lies in continuing dialogue with various sectors, both formal and informal. We are closely monitoring the situation of MSME and will ensure that the appropriate packages are rolled out supporting them in their business in short and medium term. In our state, MSME specializes in different products in different districts/regions. For example, in Morbi we have ceramics, in Rajkot, it is engineering while MSMEs in Jamnagar produce brass parts. Hence, region- specific flexible strategies are being devised for the businesses. We have supported MSME through deferment of power bill till 15th May and have also waived fix charges and minimum charges for the month of April 2020. A key area would be increasing the liquidity in the market and support in bringing down their operational expenses. The state government will create helpdesks to support MSMEs in import substitution since the global supply chain has been disrupted. Gujarat has been proactive in disbursing the incentives under various policies such as the Industrial Policy, Textile Policy, etc. to the MSMEs. We are working on further expediting this disbursement.

Amid the crisis, there are opportunities for attracting global investors – fleeing China – set up their economic activity in India. How do you look at such possibilities & investment in Gujarat and being part of a greater growth story? Any immediate policy incentive to seize such economic opportunity? 

Gujarat is a manufacturing hub with established capabilities across the value chain in several sectors like textile, engineering, electronics, etc. Gujarat’s growth model has been much talked about. Our conducive environment, policies, regulatory reforms and world class infrastructure have helped attract and grow businesses.

We are one of the most preferred states in the country in terms of “Ease of Doing Business”. A multi-department core group has been finalized by the Government under my supervision to support and attract investments in the state. We are working rigorously to further reduce the approval timeline. We are determined to redefine the growth model amidst this economic crisis by giving a major push to the manufacturing and trading units. 

We are reaching out to the companies which are likely to exit from China and are working closely with various embassies to bring them to Gujarat. We have already started discussions with trade organizations of concerned countries to understand the support that they need to set up operations in the state. In addition to this, we are coordinating with various state - based trade organizations to help the international players find a JV partner where needed. This eases the entry process for companies and there by results in faster realization of investment intention. The state will monitor each investment intention closely to ensure that Gujarat becomes their home.