Weekend lockdowns will not bring us results: Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar
Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar spoke to Ramesh Vinayak and Hitender Rao about reviving the economy after the pandemic, the virus trajectory in Gurugram, and running a coalition government, among other issues. Edited excerpts:
How is the economy shaping up post the lockdown? How good are revenue receipts and how much is your dependence on the market borrowings?
April was bad for us. In fact, the revenue shortfall for April, May and June was about Rs 9,000 crore. We have tried to make up for it by borrowing from the market. Revenue started trickling in after the lockdown was relaxed and the collections were about 60% in June. By July 20, we have recovered well and are at par with our projections. We are now able to meet our routine expenses on our own.
What budgetary cut are you contemplating in the revised estimates?
It is quite understandable considering the deficit. The Rs 9,000 crore revenue shortfall would force us to recalibrate our outlay.
How will the downturn in fiscal health impact the state’s development projects and welfare schemes?
There will be no impact on welfare schemes, though our development projects have been delayed by three months. During the pandemic, we have spend an additional Rs 1,500 crore to give relief to people including Rs 600-650 crore cash distribution. This money was spent on the medical services, ration distribution, arranging return of migrant labour, and relief camps.
In your role as finance minister, how do you plan to boost the economy during the pandemic?
The central government package of Rs 20 lakh crore is a big relief. In the changing scenario due to the Covid-19 situation, I feel that the service sector will suffer but the manufacturing and agriculture sectors will do well.
The central government has sought the views of the state and parents of students about reopening of schools.
We will not open primary schools and will take a call for higher classes in August. Colleges and professional institutions would be the first to start.
Projections show a rising coronavirus infection trajectory in the coming months. How do you plan to augment the health infrastructure including ventilator beds to meet any eventuality?
See, what essentially matters is the number of active cases and not the cumulative numbers. How many patients have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic is important since such patients qualify for home isolation and takes pressure off our systems. As per our current projections and rate of recovery, we are doing well in terms of health infrastructure. But we keep reviewing it.
The NCR districts of Gurugram, Faridabad and Sonepat have a majority of Covid-19 cases. Health minister Anil Vij hinted at the possibility of stricter curbs. Is a curfew or a selective lockdown on the cards?
The weekend lockdowns will not bring us results. Things are slowly coming back on track and the imposition of a fresh lockdown would mean putting pressure on people. Our strategy instead is to go for aggressive containment in the NCR districts. We are screening more people and conducting more tests.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommended that NCR districts should follow Delhi’s model for combating the spread of the coronavirus. Do you see a need to work with Delhi since the increase in the number of cases in Gurugram has been attributed to the movement of people between the two cities?
We, along with Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, are implementing a common strategy for combating the infection. Infection travelled to Haryana from Delhi initially, but now both states are at par in terms of contagion spread. Since there is so much back-and-forth movement from Delhi to Haryana, it is hard to conclude now on the origin of the contagion.
Gurugram was kept in the orange zone despite a sharp rise in the number of cases to facilitate the reopening of the industry. What impact did the closure of businesses in the Millennium City have on the state’s revenue? How is the government planning to boost the local economy?
We cannot overlook the adverse economic impact of three months. But if you look at the power consumption for the industry, it is at par with 2019. This means that the industry is operating at the same capacity as it was last year. Of course, there could be workforce engagement related issues because of the need to maintain social distancing.
You recently spoke in Mewat about enacting a Freedom of Religion law to prohibit religious conversions by force, allurement or marriage. Why do you feel the need for such a law?
There were complaints regarding forced conversions and marriages from many districts. People are free to adopt any religion in an informed manner but using coercion, allurement to force religious conversions is a matter of concern. Such incidents vitiate the atmosphere of society. We are studying similar laws enacted by other states and accordingly take a call.
How has been your experience of running a coalition government so far? The BJP and Jannayak Janta Party have not been able decide on the common minimum programme. Any deadline?
We are not new to coalition politics in the state. The BJP and the JJP both are like-minded entities, and both oppose the Congress. Common minimum programme is not a major issue because we do not have any conflict with our ally. We are well synchronized. The proposed 75 % private sector quota law is an example that we are on similar page.