‘Surge in cases in Hi­machal but not at the pace as in other states’

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - HTSPOTLIGH­T -

Hi­machal Pradesh chief min­is­ter Jairam Thakur is fac­ing the twin chal­lenges of bat­tling the Covid-19 pan­demic and bick­er­ing within the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In an in­ter­view with Chetan Chauhan, Thakur spoke about how the state has kept the Covid-19 num­bers low and his plans to re­vive the econ­omy. Edited ex­cerpts:

How has Hi­machal dealt with Covid-19?

In Hi­machal, corona has in­creased but not at the pace as in other states. In Hi­machal, we con­tin­ued with cur­few to ex­plain to peo­ple in sim­ple terms that they don’t have to go out. Strict im­ple­men­ta­tion helped as it did not al­low spread of Covid till Tab­lighi Ja­maat at­ten­dees re­turned in April first week. De­spite that, man­age­ment within the state was so good that we didn’t al­low the cases to in­crease. We formed a team of 16,000 per­son­nel, who went to all 70 lakh homes, and took health de­tails of all.

So why has the num­ber of cases in­creased to about 615?

When Hi­machalis from other states start re­turn­ing in May, cases in­creased. On May 1, we had one Covid positive case. When the PM held a video con­fer­ence with all CMs, he told all of us to en­sure that mi­grants are able to re­turn home safely. We brought back peo­ple from across In­dia and stu­dents from Kota{coach­ing schools} also came back. Now there are 615 cases. We have a mech­a­nism to en­sure ev­ery re­turnee is kept in in­sti­tu­tional quar­an­tine and is tested.

PM has spo­ken about un­lock norms. In Hi­machal, tourism and hor­ti­cul­ture are two im­por­tant cogs of the state’s econ­omy. How do you plan to re­vive them?

Tourism in Hi­machal and the en­tire world is badly af­fected. ... Although we are get­ting calls that peo­ple want to come to Hi­machal, we have not given a re­lax­ation in un­lock norms, as Covid cases are still high out­side Hi­machal... Our peo­ple have suf­fered as 55,000 peo­ple are di­rectly em­ployed and lakhs are in­di­rectly em­ployed {in tourism}. Home stay is a big in­come source, which is gone.

Hor­ti­cul­ture sec­tor has been af­fected. Cherry sea­son went well. Ap­ple sea­son, which is ₹4,000 to 4,500 crore econ­omy, has three im­por­tant com­po­nents --- pack­ag­ing ma­te­rial, mar­ket­ing and labour. We have started fac­to­ries and are ar­rang­ing for 2.5 crore ap­ple pack­ag­ing boxes. For sell­ing, there can be an is­sue if Azad­pur mar­ket (in New Delhi) is closed be­cause of Covid. We have raised the is­sue with the PM and are work­ing on the al­ter­na­tives. Third is labour, most of which comes from Nepal. Nepalese work­ers go back to their homes in Novem­ber-December... This year, many have not come back...

For­mer BJP state pres­i­dent Ra­jeev Bin­dal had to re­sign be­cause of the al­leged scam in pur­chase of per­sonal pro­tec­tion equip­ment kits, which is said to be a re­sult of in­ter­nal bick­er­ing.

It is not a big scam. We are try­ing to save ev­ery per­son and peo­ple have suf­fered be­cause of Covid. In this, if some­one tries to steal, there can­not be a big­ger sin. Party pres­i­dent (Bin­dal) is not di­rectly in­volved... The is­sue was that the di­rec­tor of health, who seemed to be seek­ing money (for award of PPE kit con­tracts) is con­sid­ered close to him. When the op­po­si­tion raised the is­sue, he (Bin­dal) re­signed on moral grounds...We have con­ducted and in­quiry and have taken the best pos­si­ble ac­tion.

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