New Delhi: The Tablighi Jamaat members in Madhya Pradesh who attended the controversial Nizamuddin event are among the reasons behind the sudden spike in Covid-19 cases in the state, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has said.
In an exclusive emailed interview to ThePrint Wednesday, Chouhan said the Tablighi Jamaat members in Madhya Pradesh “came back and scattered into many corners”, “responded reluctantly and did not come forward willingly” to share information.
Facing criticism over his government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, especially in hotspots like Indore, Chouhan said the “situation in Madhya Pradesh has improved”. He targetted former CM Kamal Nath over his allegations that the state wasn’t conducting enough tests.
He also defended the state’s health officials who have tested positive for coronavirus, adding he has sought a report on how they caught the virus.
Chouhan expanded his one-man cabinet by inducting five ministers Tuesday, 29 days after coming to power with the help of rebel Congress MLAs who switched sides to topple the Kamal Nath government. While two Congress rebels are part of the new cabinet, the CM said he will ensure grassroot-level BJP workers are “accommodated” in the next expansion.
With his government facing allegations of laxity towards maintaining lockdown protocols, Chouhan said social distancing measures were in place at the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday.
He also laid out the plans about lifting the lockdown and restarting the economy.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
On Tablighi Jamaat and political response to Covid-19
Chouhan blamed the Tablighi Jamaat members for derailing his government’s efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 by hiding information.
He said fewer cases were found in Madhya Pradesh initially, and they were “primarily in Jabalpur”. However, a rapid rise in the number of cases around major cities like Indore and Bhopal raised the index. This was due to the Jamaat members who had returned from the Delhi event last month, he claimed.
“Tablighi Jamaat members of Madhya Pradesh who joined this event in Delhi, came back and scattered into many corners and prime areas of the state. They are also the reason for this sudden rise as they responded reluctantly and did not come forward willingly and thus indirectly spread it among others,” he said.
Chouhan said he received from the Central government a list of the Jamaat members from MP who had attended the event.
“In total, there were 108 such members who came from Delhi and further went into core and prime regions of Madhya Pradesh. We have traced them and are doing their treatment as per the protocol. They are being quarantined and proper care is being taken,” said the CM.
Chouhan has come under fire from political opponents, especially his predecessor Kamal Nath, for his handling of the public health crisis. However, the CM blamed Nath for not doing anything enough to tackle the situation.
“The situation in Madhya Pradesh has improved and is not what it was when he (Nath) was the CM,” said Chouhan. Nath was the chief minister until mid-March, when the BJP toppled his government. Chouhan took over on 23 March, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 cases.
“I would like to inform him (Nath) and the media that important measures regarding the spread of Covid-19 have been taken since I took charge as the chief minister. We have been continuously involved in handling this situation. Prior to this, medical facilities were less in numbers. Today we are in a far better condition than before,” he said.
As of Thursday, Madhya Pradesh has 1,592 Covid-19 positive cases.
Asked about the criticism from the opposition, especially Nath, about not enough testing taking place in the state, Chouhan said, “If Mr Kamal Nath was aware of these facts, why didn’t he take measures to overcome these things when he was chief minister. It is a matter of concern. They are hiding their failure by making such statements.”
He added, “I personally feel this is not a right time to put blames. Instead of making political comments they should play their part in this fight being a senior public representative of the state.”
On efforts to combat Covid-19
Speaking about the efforts in the state to combat the Covid-19 crisis, Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the state government has created 400 containment areas in 26 districts of Madhya Pradesh.
“100% survey and contact tracing is being done in all such areas. Screening and quarantining of more than 55,000 people from abroad have been undertaken,” he said.
Chauhan said the condition is constantly improving with a large number of patients recovering.
“Till yesterday, 35 infected patients in Bhopal and 74 infected patients in Indore have recovered and come home. Similarly, there is not a single local Covid positive patient in Gwalior and Shivpuri. We have distributed medicines to people for a better immune system including Ayurvedic, herbal and Unani medicines,” Chauhan said.
The chief minister added that testing is being ramped up and the process to start new laboratories is also in progress.
Pointing out the efforts made by the state for the welfare of migrant population, Chauhan said they are being provided ration.
“Many labourers of our state work in other states. More than 570,000 thousand workers have come to the state till 3 April. In view of the danger of coronavirus, these migrant workers have been quarantined separately in 2,792 places,” he said.
“Regular health check up of migrant laborers is being done. This is the reason that only one labourer has become coronavirus positive in the rural areas. He is being regularly monitored and is being provided treatment,” he added.
The CM added that an amount of over Rs 88 crore was deposited in the accounts of 8.85 lakh labourers — amounting to nearly Rs 1,000 per worker.
On infected health officials
Amid the pandemic, Madhya Pradesh has also seen a row over a number of health department officials who have tested positive for Covid-19, impacting the department’s work.
Asked if this was a failure on part of the health department and the administration, Chouhan said it is too early to label the situation.
“We are fighting a terrible epidemic where infection spreads very rapidly and comes out unexpectedly. Social distancing is the effective way to avoid it. Since our officers, health workers and administrative personnel were at the forefront of fighting this war with their full dedication, they were fulfilling their duty regardless of the safety of their lives. Unfortunately, they got infected,” said Chouhan.
“Recently, we have lost two selfless brave warriors of Indore and Ujjain. Inspectors Devendra Kumar Chandravanshi and Yashvant Pal, such brave officers deserved to be honoured,” he said.
However, Chouhan added that he has taken cognisance of the issue and has sought a detailed report.
“Without knowing the real facts, it would not be right to say what went wrong. They are all government officials and were performing their duties. Now after knowing about this, their contact history is being investigated,” he said.
“We are trying to find out about the cause of their infection and the series of people they met in the meantime. Further, action will be taken by the district authorities on obtaining information based on the protocol,” added Chouhan.
On cabinet expansion and swearing-in ceremony
On Tuesday, Shivraj Singh Chouhan expanded his one-man cabinet, nearly a month after he took over. He allocated portfolios of five new ministers — three from the BJP and two Congress rebels — Wednesday.
Asked how he intended to placate the BJP MLAs who have not been included in the cabinet even as those who came from the Congress got in, the CM said, “Well, we have included two (former) ministers Tulsi Silawat and Govind Singh Rajput in the present cabinet. We will ensure that everyone who has worked as a grassroot-level BJP worker is accommodated in the cabinet once the (next) expansion takes place.”
On the severe criticism BJP has faced from the opposition for the way it carried out government formation amid the pandemic, Chauhan said it was not true.
“Due care has been taken during all the events and functions,” he said.
“We have followed the directions as per the guidelines and kept the social distancing manual during the (swearing-in ceremony) function. Congress is making such comments because they are peeved. We are well aware of the importance of social distancing,” he said.
On restarting the economy
With the Covid-19 crisis severely hitting the state, CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan also laid out his plans for restarting the economy.
Chauhan said with the nationwide lockdown being partially lifted (on 20 April), the Madhya Pradesh government is planning to slowly lift the restrictions.
“Construction work will be allowed to go on, after following the rules of social distancing and taking all the precautions. Small economic activities will be allowed in green zones. Everything will be conditional,” he said.
“We have decided to open the industries and offices except in the highly sensitive areas like Indore, Bhopal and Ujjain. No person will be allowed to move from one zone to another from the sensitive areas. Initially, we are allowing small activities depending on the conditions of the districts,” he said.
Chauhan added that his government has formed a state-level committee to “discuss the measures to reboot the economy of the state and to regain the economical and financial momentum when this crisis ends”.