Covid-19 still biggest challenge: Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Six months into his fourth term as Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is not only fighting to limit the spread of Covid-19 but also to boost the state’s economy. This comes at a time bypolls are to be held in 28 assembly seats, which might decide the fate of his government. Edited excerpts from an interview to Ranjan
Six months ago, you assumed office at a time Covid-19 had started spreading in the state. How tough has this challenge been?
It was the biggest challenge and it remains one. When I came, Covid-19 had spread its tentacles. There was no arrangement to tackle the disease. I was busy for three months in putting in place all arrangements for testing and treating Covid-19 patients like laboratories, hospitals, beds and beds with oxygen, PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] kits, hand gloves, masks, sanitiser, medicines etc. However, lockdown imposed by the Prime Minister with a great vision gave us time to raise the infrastructure and make required arrangements.
But don’t you think Covid-19 is still spreading at an alarming pace across the state?
Till there was lockdown, the situation was under control but the lockdown couldn’t go on forever. The economy has to be brought back on the right track. Hence, the decision to unlock.
But it’s also true that when people started moving out and mingling, the number of Covid-19 cases grew and it’s a big challenge for us.
How do you plan to control the situation?
We strengthened our health infrastructure. We are further strengthening it while increasing the number of beds and beds with oxygen in all government hospitals and hospitals associated with medical colleges. We added two super-speciality hospitals in Rewa and Indore recently. We are having a tie-up with several private hospitals and permitted other private hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients but they have to display the charges for everything. We are treating asymptomatic patients in their homes with effective monitoring of the treatment.
But don’t you think there is more dependence on private hospitals? There are a lot of complaints against private hospitals regarding malpractices?
Private hospitals are mainly at divisional headquarters. In other districts, the district hospitals are treating such patients and we continue to upgrade the facilities over there for treatment. As far as complaints against private hospitals are concerned, we have to have a balanced approach in dealing with the same. Where there are complaints, we will take action but we also have to see that doctors are risking their life in treating patients. We have to encourage such doctors too.
The government used to say earlier that the death rate was high due to Covid-19 patients reporting to hospitals late but what do you say of the number of deaths shooting up now when there is more awareness among the people?
There is movement of people now and they are meeting and interacting with one another in the unlock period. If there is contact and you are not aware, then the virus will spread. So, the number of deaths has gone up but the remedy is constantly creating awareness among people and people following all Covid-19 protocols strictly. But the fact remains that Madhya Pradesh is in a far better position, whether it’s death rate or number of patients, in comparison to many other states.
Also read: India’s Covid-19 tally crosses 6 million
Is it not true that the number of Covid-19 tests in Madhya Pradesh is less than that in many other states?
There is no check on Covid-19 tests. There are fever clinics. Anyone can go there and get himself tested. But the testing that we used to do earlier while visiting each and every house has been discontinued. The reason is that it was effective when we had to do the contact tracing to know who came in contact with whom. But contact tracing is not possible now when people are moving in markets during the unlock period.
For instance, if a person is moving in the market, it’s not possible to know how many people he came in contact with. That’s why the arrangement of fever clinics is there. Now, we have introduced the concept of mobile fever clinics too.
Which areas suffered due to Covid-19’s impact on the economy?
Covid-19 affected us in two ways. First, it ruined our economy and second, there was and is more expenditure required on the infrastructure for identifying and treating patients.
Given the impact, our non-essential projects have slowed down. For instance, we have decided not to construct buildings. All non-essential expenditure will be cut as much as possible. But development projects that are necessary will go on. At the same time, we have not compromised with any welfare scheme whether it’s for farmers, students, labourers, street vendors, poor and others from the weaker section of society.
What is your plan to increase the revenue in the state and bring the economy back on track?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave us the mantra of Atmanirbhar Bharat [Self Reliant India]. We have chalked out an Atmanirbhar Madhya Pradesh road map for the next three years. This road map has measures in it to be undertaken to increase the revenue. I will present the same to the Prime Minister in the next few days and then make it public. However, I am not hesitant in borrowing loans in meeting the expenditure for Covid-19, essential projects and welfare of people.
Don’t you expect a special package from the Centre?
The Centre has extended enough assistance to Madhya Pradesh despite the fact that it is facing a financial crisis due to Covid-19 situation.
Is this the toughest challenge of your political career?
Challenges do come but a leader is who accepts the same and finds the way out of it. Otherwise, why should he be a leader? I will take Madhya Pradesh ahead despite this challenging situation.
Recently, the government admitted in the state assembly that then Congress government waived the loans of 2.7 million farmers. Don’t you think this goes against the stand of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] so far and won’t it be a big poll issue for the Congress?
They (Congress) only believed in telling a lie. Having made the promise to waive the loans of all farmers up to Rs 2 lakh per head, then Congress government’s entire focus was on how to exclude a large number of farmers from the list of beneficiaries on some pretext or the other.
For instance, their first rider was waiving of only short-term loans, then cooperative banks loans, then setting the deadline of March 31, 2018, then talking of waiving loans taken from just one bank etc. Then government waived loans worth Rs 6,000 crore only. As far as bypolls are concerned, we are going to win the same comfortably on the issues of development and welfare of people.