Ranchi: Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has rubbished allegations that the Tablighi Jamaat is the main factor behind the spread of coronavirus cases in India.
In an interview with ThePrint, Soren said: “If the number of coronavirus patients in India has gone up only due to Jamaatis, then what about rest of the world? Why is the situation so bad there?
“Diseases and ailment do not differentiate on the basis of caste or religion. Some mentally deprived people are doing politics on this issue and spreading all kind of confusion.”
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Jharkhand’s Covid-19 hotspot
Soren’s state has so far reported 32 cases of Covid-19, with the Hindpirhi area of state capital Ranchi being identified as a hotspot. Jharkhand’s first case — related to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin last month — was reported from this locality, and there have so far been 17 cases in this area, which has a population of about 1.25 lakh.
This has led to all kinds of rumours in Hindpirhi over the last several days, with incidents of alleged attacks on medical teams and cleaning staff also coming to the fore. Several FIRs have been lodged, and the entire locality has been sealed.
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In a news report published on 17 April, a member of the cleaning staff at the state’s largest hospital, RIIMS, which is currently serving as Covid-19 test centre, was seen cleaning the surfaces without wearing gloves or shoe covers.
But Soren sought to allay fears after visiting Hindpirhi Friday. “Since the entire Hindpirhi locality has been completely locked, every family has been provided with rations for 15 days. If there is any need to extend the lockdown period, then more rations will be delivered. There is absolutely no reason for people to panic,” he said.
Slow pace of testing
One source of worry for people is the fact that only 3,751 people have been tested for the novel coronavirus in the entire state.
Soren acknowledged this, but said the pace had been stepped up.
“I do acknowledge that the current pace of testing is quite slow, but it has gone up recently. If the central government provides adequate assistance, we will be able to intensify it further,” he said.
“The Centre’s nod is required to open new test centres. Test kits and other necessary items are still arriving. In the time to come, we will be able to test a large number of people,” Soren assured.
Fund crunch and unemployment
In the battle against Covid-19, Jharkhand is also facing a fund crunch, and Soren is seeking the Centre’s help.
“In the post-lockdown period, Jharkhand’s condition is likely to worsen further. The central government should extend assistance for handling that crisis too,” the CM said.
“Funding should be increased for MNREGA corpus. Here, we are not being able to give more than Rs 200 to the labourers under MNREGA, while several developed states are giving out as much as Rs 300 per day. This is why labourers do not stay in Jharkhand and migrate to other places. It is a different matter that we have not sought any special package from the Centre for this.”
Asked about the need to seek central aid when Jharkhand has about Rs 5,000 crore in the District Mineral Fund, Soren said: “The DMF indeed has a corpus of Rs 5,000 crore, but it will be hard to tackle the upcoming crisis with this fund only.”
“Mining companies operating in Jharkhand owe more than Rs 50,000 crore to the state government. These include some central PSUs like Central Coalfields Limited and Bharat Coking Coal Limited. If the central government reimburses this amount to us, we will be able to handle the adverse situations expected in the near future. We have requested PM Modi in this regard.”
Jharkhand already has high unemployment, and if even half of its estimated eight lakh migrant workers return to the state, the situation will become grimmer.
Asked about the government’s strategy in handling this problem, Soren said: “Officials have been asked to prepare a detailed plan. We will provide special focus to agriculture-based industries and small scale industries.”
Food for the needy
According to the 2011 Census, Jharkhand’s population was 3.3 crore, of which 76 per cent lives in rural areas.
Soren, whose Jharkhand Mukti Morcha rode to power last December in coalition with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, has made arrangements to provide food to the needy, but ‘CM Dal-Bhat’ kitchens have next to no reach in rural areas.
Asked about this, Soren said: “Cooked food is being prepared and distributed at more than 6,000 centres in the state. Ration card holders are getting double rations. The state government’s preparations are not the best, but they are also not below average.”
Children will soon be provided milk, he added.
Soren’s government has also denied figures related to starvation deaths, including those that occurred under the previous BJP regime headed by Raghubar Das.
Assistance via Sahayata app
Following the lead taken by Nitish Kumar’s government in neighbouring Bihar, the Jharkhand government Thursday announced it would provide monetary assistance to migrant workers stuck outside the state.
“An app named ‘Jharkhand Corona Sahayata’ has been launched for this purpose. It has been developed by the National Informatics Centre. People who register on this app will be sent Rs 1,000,” Soren said.
“All the required data will be collected in the next few days and then the money will be sent via bank transfers. If we are able to raise our corpus, more money will be transferred.”
On the complaint that officials are not receiving calls from people, the CM said: “If they are busy on the phone all the time, then who will do the work? We have launched a call centre for this, which can handle 100 calls at a time.
“We are receiving data; we are providing relief to people. We have also sought assistance from some NGOs in this regard.”