Jaipur: The economic package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week amid the Covid-19 outbreak is just 1 per cent of India’s GDP and not enough compared to the packages announced by countries like the US, UK and China, Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot told ThePrint in an interview.
As migrant workers across the country exit the cities and walk back to their villages on foot, Pilot said more than economic packages, what people need is food security.
“What the poorest need is not deferment of EMIs but dal, rice and cooking oil,” Pilot said.
He also said that India could have been better prepared to provide these essentials, considering it has the largest public distribution system in the world, and the capacity and reserves to feed everyone.
Yet, the kind of focus needed on the poorest and the vulnerable is missing from the central government’s package, the Congress leader said.
Mass movement around the border is a problem
As the number of Covid-19 cases in India touched 1,000 Sunday, the Union Cabinet Secretary wrote to states to strictly enforce the lockdown and seal state borders to stop movement of people.
Pilot agreed that mass movement around the border was a problem, and people should stay wherever they are. He said it was the states’ responsibility to provide them a security net.
“I wrote to all the states’ chief ministers, saying that we really must try and keep every one of our citizens safe, no matter where they are from,” Pilot said. He said states must give daily-wage earners food, shelter and some kind of security for them to stay back.
Over 20,000 labourers entered Rajasthan at the state’s border with Gujarat. Pilot said they were screened and then mapped by geo-tagging, so that an individual could be identified if they were found to be positive for Covid-19 later.
Measures Rajasthan has taken
Rajasthan has reported 57 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as on 30 March, with a spike in the numbers coming from the Bhilwara district due to transmission at a private hospital. Pilot said this was a matter of concern, and that the administration had isolated whoever was symptomatic in the district.
The deputy CM said to prepare for Covid-19, Rajasthan has asked 11,000 villages to be fumigated with sodium hypochlorite, a known disinfectant effective in killing the novel coronavirus.
He added that enough beds and isolation facilities have been prepared.
“(Our aim) is to have one lakh additional beds in our system in the next few days. Now, for example, we also mandated that 25 per cent of all beds in private hospitals have to be given for isolation,” said Pilot.
Rajasthan is providing food supplies to the needy, and is also running a toll-free helpline, he said.
The state government’s relief effort is being helped by Rajasthani individuals living in other cities, who have raised Rs 35 crore. District collectors are also being given funds not earmarked for specific purposes by the state government (called discretionary funds), and MPs’ and MLAs’ contributions from their own funds.
Rajasthan is the 12th poorest state in the country, and belongs in the empowered action group of states earlier known by the acronym ‘BIMARU’ (standing for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, which now includes Odisha, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand). Asked how Rajasthan manages to make investments in health, Pilot dismissed the old grouping, saying these comparisons do not matter anymore as a lot depends on political will.
As state Congress chief
Pilot is also the president of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee, and has asked party functionaries to set up control rooms in the districts and become a bridge between the people and the administration, delivering food, medicine and essentials to those who need them.
The challenge, he said, lies in identifying who needs the help, and giving them subsidies or cash transfers wherever they are.
Asked how an administration locates a migrant walking hundreds of kilometres, who may have an account in one state but lives in another, Pilot said: “We are making sure our databases are accurate and we are reaching them within days and not weeks.”
Hand-washing in rural Rajasthan
Pilot also said he has asked block development officers to make people in rural areas wash their hands four times a day. The government has made soaps part of the kits distributed by village sanitation committees.
Asked if water shortage in the desert state during the summer will hinder the practice of hand-washing, he said the hard summer was still a month-and-half away, and that he has asked distillers to produce hand sanitisers, while the government will ramp up water supply.