Devendra Kumar Tiwari, Chief secretary, Jharkhand
Devendra Kumar Tiwari, the top bureaucrat in Jharkhand, which has till date not reported any confirmed case of coronavirus, tells ABHISHEK ANGAD that the state administration is ready to address the situation if there’s an outbreak. Excerpts:
Jharkhand has a substantial population in the unorganised sector - around 90 per cent of the workforce. Is there any data to help these people in the aftermath of the lockdown?
The figures have changed, but as of now 2.55 crore people in Jharkhand have been covered under PDS (public distribution system), and we are in the process of giving two months’ ration to them. Around 8 lakh people whose applications were pending for ration cards will be given 10 kg rice. We are reaching out to all of them. If the crisis escalates, proper measures will be taken.
What measures have been taken so far to mitigate their suffering?
We have 25 lakh active MGNREGA card-holders and Rs 150 crore have been pumped into the system to clear their dues till date. More work will be given to them if the crisis continues. We will give three-month pension to the beneficiaries in Jharkhand. Around 9 lakh construction workers are registered with us and we have Rs 400 crore out of cess that we get, though we are yet to decide on how to help them monetarily. Central government schemes (such as) PM Kisan and Ujjwala will continue side by side.
On the ground, there are many holes in the schemes you talked about. How are you ensuring that the people get food?
Around Rs 3.19 crore is in the process of being allocated to open 498 “daal-bhaat” centres (to serve rice and daal) in all 24 districts. Additional such centres have been opened in 342 police stations. Each centre will feed around 200 people every day, with a total of 1,68,000 people in the state for two months. We will review the situation as per need. In distant villages, were it is not possible to supply cooked food, we will distribute packets consisting of 2 kg flattened rice, jaggery and whole black gram.
Is the government planning any other direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme? Don’t you think many villagers will need cash in hand?
There are no other DBT announcements. Even during the lockdown we have kept the village economy sustained by allowing groceries, vegetable, weekly markets to function while maintaining social distancing. I don’t think they would need cash in hand as of now.
Jharkhand Milk Federation did not procure milk from dairy farmers for three days. Around 4 lakh litres of milk is accumulated. Is a move such as distributing that, at say half the price, being considered?
That will hurt the economy. We are in talks with Bihar and Chhattisgarh to take the milk and convert it into powder. Some solution will be reached at.
Jharkhand has zero COVID-19 cases as of now. Is that a case of under-reporting?
Not at all. We got 175 samples checked and none came out positive. The test compared to the population is more than (what has been done in) other states. Earlier we were following ICMR guidelines, which changed recently. Currently two machines at Ranchi and Jamshedpur are functioning. We are procuring machines from four other medical colleges. The frequency of tests will increase in a few days.
But many migrant labourers who returned were not checked properly.
Around 75,000 people have returned in recent weeks, most of them labourers. Once they reached their village our health workers tracked them and advised them home isolation, among other measures. We arrived at the figure based on the data provided by those workers.
Is Jharkhand equipped to handle the outbreak?
We have ordered supplies. We have made arrangements and at maximum we can deal with 2,000 COVID-19 patients at a time. We have asked all private labs, pathologists, paramedics to join in during the crisis. We will handle it if there’s an outbreak.
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