Exclusive interview: MGNREGA proved very useful in fighting poverty amid COVID-19 crisis, says Bhupesh Baghel

Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel shared his experience of fighting the COVID-19 pandemicin a telephonic interview with National Herald, enumerating various steps taken by his govt to handle the crisis

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel
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Vishwadeepak

At a time when the Narendra Modi-ledgovernment at the Centre is facing flak for incompetence and laidback response in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh has earned accolades for its prompt response and pre-emptive action to contain the spread of the virus.

It has also displayed a genuine will to prevent starvation deaths, using MGNREGA and rations schemes to save lives.

Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel shared his experience of fighting the pandemic in a telephonic interview with National Herald:

Exclusive interview: MGNREGA proved very useful in fighting poverty amid COVID-19 crisis, says Bhupesh Baghel

NH: How are things in Chhattisgarh as far as COVID-19 pandemic is concerned?

Baghel: Well, the numbers don’t lie. There are only 59 total COVID-19 patients in hospital today when I am talking to you. Out of these, 21 are recovering very fast. And I hope they will be sent to their home soon.

Unlike other states such as Gujarat, Delhi, MP and Maharashtra, the situation in my state is very much under control so far.

Although, the influx of people who were stuck in other states is causing a little worry to us, we are prepared to handle this also. Those who are coming through trains, buses or cabs can be easily taken care of, but those sneaking through various routes quietly can cause a problem. I can assure you that my government is exceptionally alert on this front.

In fact, as Rahul ji has suggested, we are ahead of the pandemic. We didn’t wait for the crisis to come; we made arrangements before hand to nail the virus.


NH: How did you handle the crisis?

Baghel: It is a well-known fact that COVID-19 came from foreign lands. It started from China and then reached other countries. So, it was quite clear that those coming from foreign countries would be the carriers.

Our first reaction was to put all our efforts into action. We quarantined those came through airports and we started it right from March. We imposed social distancing very strictly. Section 144 of the IPC was reinforced across the state from early March to avoid gatherings and crowding.

Schools, malls, cinemas and all such places where people gather and come in close contact were shut down much before others did it.

Simultaneously, we started a public awareness campaign through the media, local administration and NGOs. A coordinated effort seems to have worked in our favour.

NH: Health management is one aspect of this pandemic. The other serious challenge is how to keep feeding the poor under the lockdown situation. What did you do in this direction?

Baghel: Our first move was to tell the local administration to keep the food supply going at all costs.

The Congress government decided to give 70 kg rice to every ration card holder. But I was aware that many didn’t have any card etc., soinstructions were issued to give rice even to those who do not have ration card.

I must tell you that the MGNREGA scheme proved very helpful in our mission to reach and help the poor. Right now, 22 lakh people are engaged through MGNREGA in my state. That is 24 percent of the total MGNREGA workforce in the country. That is how we provided money to a large chunk of our population in villages.

Thirdly, Chhattisgarh is a forest and tribal dominated state. This is mohuwa and imliseason. We fixed mohwa-imli rate at Rs. 30 per kg. Earlier it was procured at the rate of Rs. 17 per kg. We have almost doubled the price.

Similarly, we have issued new credit cards to 22.48 lakhs famers. Our government also issued orders to all the factories not to do lay-offs. They were asked to provide food and lodging for the workers so that workers exodus don’t take place. We ensured that our directives in this regard are enforced strictly.

We purchased minor forest produce worth more than Rs 18.63 crore which is highest in the country. We chalked out a multi-pronged strategy to help the poor and implemented them strictly. It worked in our favour.


NH: Congress President Sonia Gandhi has issued directives to all Congress CMs to take care of the poor...

Baghel: All the measures that I have mentioned like doubling the ration, providing food to non-card holders, enlarging MGNREGA scheme net for the poor etc have been taken under Sonia ji’s direction.

She had formed a committee to monitor the implementation of manifesto promises also. This committee regularly keeps a watch on us. I must say, Chhattisgarh, under Soniaji’s direction, has done quite a satisfactory job in taking care of the health and economy in the state.

NH: You seem quite satisfied with the performance of your government.

Baghel: So far so good. But there are many challenges ahead. We are constantly working to face this pandemic to help people in this difficult time.

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Published: 10 May 2020, 1:00 PM