We need to take lockdowns, curfews seriously: Sachin Pilot
Rajasthan’s deputy chief minister and state Congress chief Sachin Pilot spoke to Aurangzeb Naqshbandi about the Bhilwara containment model, the national lockdown, raising awareness among people, and getting back to business in the time of Covidd-19. Edited excerpts:
People are talking about the Bhilwara model of containment of coronavirus but there are also several other hot spots in Rajasthan, such as Ramganj in Jaipur city. How are you dealing with the situation in those areas?
Every city has a different composition. In Bhilwara, all the Covid-19 positive cases have now turned negative. We were able to achieve this because the curfew and lockdown were very strictly adhered to. The local administration imposed a “super curfew” with no vehicle and person allowed to move out. But it is true that the number of cases is rising in Rajasthan, as it is in other parts of the country. We really need to take our curfews and lockdowns seriously. No lockdown can be successful without the full participation and cooperation of the people.
You talked about spike in positive cases? Is it because that we have now started testing more?
Certainly, the testing has been slow and we need to test more. We are now going to start doing random sampling in Rajasthan. We’re acquiring adequate number of testing kits to do that. The number of tests conducted all over India is still quite limited. We have to scale up our testing and that is the only way to get a true picture
The spike is also attributed to Delhi’s Tablighi Jamaat congregation. Now some people are saying there is an attempt to give a communal colour to the crisis.
First - authorities should explain how they allowed such a large congregation despite prohibitory orders. There should be an inquiry to fix the responsibility. Second, action should be taken against those who held that meeting and violated restrictions that were in place. This virus has shown around the world that it does not differentiate between religion, colour, race, language, ethnicity, rich and poor. Whether it is Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti or Shab-e-Baraat, all these should have been postponed. This is the time for all of us to come together to fight this crisis as one country, one nation, and one people.
Is it important for people to know they need to come forward and get tested. How do you spread that awareness?
We have to work hard in the rural areas not only in Rajasthan but across the country. Even though there is technology and mobile phones, the resistance to change is far more in rural areas as compared to urban centres. We were lucky to start as early as mid-March in rural parts of Rajasthan through the rural development, panchayati raj and activating sarpanch-level platforms. We started general awareness programmes and used the Swachh Bharat platforms to sensitise people.
You said lockdown is the only way out but it has also stalled economic activity?
My heart goes out to the people, especially to those who are at the bottom of the pyramid. I know the hardships and it is very important to ensure essential supplies are maintained. But one cannot prematurely lift the lockdown and allow the infection to spread rapidly in a big country like India. We don’t have the capacity to deal with a large number of infected people. There has to be a middle ground. We have to start economic activities in a gradual staggered manner and at the same time maintain all precautions.
But do you have a lockdown exit strategy in place in Rajasthan?
Lockdown and restrictions have to be uniform in India. There is no point in three states having the lockdown and two states not having it. What we saw in the beginning of the lockdown, lakhs of people were stranded at different state borders. We can’t have a repeat of that. In Rajasthan, we have to gradually start crucial sectors of our economy. The harvest season is on. I’m hopeful that the Centre will procure the harvest at the minimum support price (MSP). Once reserves dry up, we will need to procure foodgrains and give money in the hands of farmers and weaker sections.
What are your views on the issues of CSR funding and suspending of MPLADS?
I am of the opinion that if the money is given for the same cause whether to the PM Relief Fund or the CM Relief Fund, it should be treated at par. There should be parity and same exemptions and same benefits must be extended to both. About MPLADS, my view is that while the central government needs resources, it should consult the MPs on how best to use it.
As Rajasthan Congress president, what role is the organisation playing in the fight against Covid-19 and do you face any coordination issues with the government?
We are political workers and our job is not limited to only campaigning and contesting elections. Our primary job is to do social service that is what we are doing today. Irrespective of parties and ideologies, we have to come forward and together fight this pandemic. The Congress party has set up control centre in Jaipur and 33 district headquarters. We, as a party, are a bridge between the administration and the people.
Are you satisfied with the state government’s efforts in dealing with the crisis?
I think everyone is putting the best effort given the resources and conditions. We are doing the best we can. Obviously, more support from the central government would be welcomed and we will be able to do more. All hands are on deck.