In the times of pandemic, Punjab has been the only state which has acted before any other states. Be it imposing lockdown+ (curfew) or being vocal on the economy, Punjab has stood out from the rest of the states. For standing out from the rest of the states especially in these times of pandemic, vision and strategy should work shoulder to shoulder. While visions are of the head of the states, strategy to implement those visions effectively is the work of Chief Principal Secretaries.
Today, Mr Suresh Kumar Chief Principal Secretary to Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh and member of the 'steel frame of resistance' against Corona in a virtual interview with True Scoop, spoke how strategies were created for the fight against contagious disease, how the state is planning to safeguard the interests and livelihood of migrants, and is the state ready for worst scenarios?
Q: “Lengthy Lockdown will Kill More people than Covid” according to Narayana Murthy, Infosys Founder. “When you look at 9 million people dying naturally, and when you compare it with the of 1000 people in past 2 months, obviously it’s not as much panic as we think it is.” How much truth do you think there is in this statement?
A: Statement by Infosys Founder Narayana Murthy is not too incorrect, people die of other diseases but the coronavirus pandemic is totally uncertain, unknown in its behaviour. The focus is to contain the virus from spreading, practice social distancing, limit movement, wear face masks. Poorest are the worst hit in the pandemic. In these unprecedented times, unprecedented decisions have been taken.
Q: Punjab suffered 88% revenue loss in April according to our Hon’bl CM Capt Amarinder Singh. How is the government planning to boost the economy? Direct Benefits? Deferment of Interests/Payments or Taxes? Wage subsidies? Stimulus package? Almost all measures taken so far in India are for the poor. Which is understandable— but not exactly fair. A lot of countries like Singapore & Canada have introduced various stimulus packages especially for MSMEs that help their people & industries survive in these times. What are Punjab’s plans?
A: It's true. Punjab has lost 88% of revenue in April 2020, of Rs 3360 crore only Rs 396 revenue could be generated during state-wide curfew. There's not much fiscal space available to levy more taxes in Punjab. GoI has to do some innovative fiscal management, should give revenue deficit grants and more money to the states. I feel happy with PM Modi's 20 Lakh Crore Stimulus Package, which constitutes 10 per cent of the GDP as an economy booster. Punjab CM has been continuously writing to PM Modi to revive the economy, suggestions have been given to infuse our economy particularly our industries, migrant workers and landless laborers. Fortunately, Punjab's agricultural and rural economy is not doing bad. The government has purchased over 1 lakh 88 metric tonnes of wheat amidst the hour of crisis. We have infused Rs 26,000 crore in the rural economy. We are worried about our cities/urban areas. On a positive sight, 12% of industries have started working and 35% of workers have decided to stay in Punjab. Further actions will be based upon the GoI stimulus package's details.
Q: Labor laws amendments have been made in States like UP & MP exempting the Industries from many Acts that limit & bound the working of Industries in one way or another. Is Punjab planning something similar?? And if not, won’t such states take away all the revenue, especially from exports & foreign investments that are primarily boosting many major industries of Punjab such as Sports & Leather Goods, Hosiery & Hand Tools?
A: We are planning to amend the labour law in Punjab which will encourage the industries. Amendment should be such that it cannot take away the civil rights of labours, the fine balance we have to achieve and the state is working on it.
Q: Health system in Punjab has been questioned recently for not providing the appropriate measures to deal with Covid 19. Protective equipments for the doctors were also eyed upon. Some people are not allowed to get their tests done while others are too afraid to get it done because of either the insensitive behaviour of the medical fraternity or lack of proper, hygienic circumnstances. A lot of people also ran & hid in this fear. Do you think this fear is legitimate or there’s only half truth in it? And Is Punjab’s healthcare system more prepared now that it’s been a few months since we have been tackling this problem? How does the Administration plan on streamlining the healthcare system and making people feel comfortable about coming to the Hospital?
A: By imposing lockdown and curfew, Punjab bought time to upgrade health facility. There's no lack of medical facility in Punjab. Public sector hospitals, medical staffs all have done a commendable job to fight the COVID crisis. Unfortunately, we witnessed very little support from the Private sector in the beginning but as the crisis unfolded we received a lot of cooperation from them. Punjab Govt issued ordinance 'Clinical Establishment Act' to regulate private clinical practitioners so that they can not run away from their ethical duties. Violation of civil liberties cannot be tolerated. But, health officials are doing a great job, they deserve some protection, they are the true Corona Warriors.
Q: Bringing back people to Punjab from different states & countries exposes people in the State more heavily to the Virus. Do you think we are doing the right thing in bringing them back? And are all those people being screened or tested after coming back to the State? Also if 18,000 people are actually coming back— do we have enough facilities to test & quarantine each one of them for 14 days?
A: Punjab is fully prepared to quarantine and test people coming from outside. There is no way Punjabis living outside can be ignored. Punjabis' who are coming from outside have to follow the basic protocols of testing, quarantine, isolation.
Q: The normal man is experiencing stress and constantly complaining about having to stay at home, doing nothing. You, and other officers, on the other end are facing stress of a different shape where you’re having to make some big decisions that will define how Punjab fights and outlives the Pandemic? What are some of the toughest decisions that you’ve had to make in these past few days ?
A: Punjab's two major challenges were migrant workers and procurement. Procurement went as it was planned, the state has done really well, we were able to secure the livelihood of over 2 million farming families. We have also upgraded the health system, PPE gears and other requisites were provided to contain the challenge. We have provided food and shelter to over 1.3 million migrant workers, who were willing to go back home. Now, Punjab is funding 400-500 Shramik Trains to ferry these migrants and all of them are being sent after due testing. Nobody in Punjab has gone hungry, nobody has suffered because government wasn't there, it's just that situation is uncertain and we have to strategise according to it. Punjabis are welcome where ever they are. Another influx of 50-60,000 Punjabis expected to come from abroad. Punjab is not going to compromise on containment measures on COVID.
Q: Recent study suggests that cases will spike in June-July according to AIIMS director. It that were to happen, will we continue the lockdown till then? Or will it continue to open in phases? Please share some highlighters of Punjab’s exit strategy with us.
A: Spike in coronavirus cases is expected in the upcoming days as there's going to be a steady influx. Punjab will continue with the lockdown. For those who cannot afford to live in the lockdown, we will allow some relief. We are trying to attend every aspect of socio-economic living of the people. Gradually, we will be back on track of normalization. Paddy, cotton sowing is the upcoming challenge for Punjab govt. We are planning to exit the lockdown through red, orange and green zone. New strategy will unfold from May 18. '2 Gaj Ki Doori' (Social Distancing) announced by PM Modi must be followed. We all have to change our lifestyle to defeat the coronavirus. I'm sure Punjab will adapt these changes, will learn the new way of life and will win the battle against novel coronavirus.