New Delhi: Hemant Soren was elected for a second time as Chief Minister of Jharkhand and took oath in December 2019. He is running a coalition government that includes the Congress and RJD.
Son of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha founder Shibu Soren, Hemant was a member of Rajya Sabha and was elected to the Assembly in 2009. He was Deputy Chief Minister from 2010 to 2013.
He is credited to be the most efficient Chief Minister in the times of coronavirus pandemic — he was the first CM to have facilitated a train from Telangana to evacuate migrants stuck in other states. He personally supervised the whole operation and welcomed all those who had been away from home due to lockdown imposed.
In an exclusive interview with IANS, the Chief Minister says he has been able to maintain good coordination with the central government and that migrants will be given work under MGNREGA.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How many corona positive cases does Jharkhand have and how are they being looked after? What’s the state of testing in the state?
A: We have been alert from the very beginning. Senior officers of the state government in coordination with the central government have been reviewing the new directives and implementing them. Thousands of tests for Covid-19 are being conducted daily in the state, especially in the containment zones, the suspect cases too are tested through contact-tracing. More than 200 people have been tested corona-positive in the state, and out of these 100 people have recovered and have been sent back home. Three persons have died, too. In comparison with other districts of the country, the recovery rate in Ranchi is the maximum. In Ranchi, 104 cases of infection were reported, out which 83 recovered and were discharged. The government is also working towards ways and means to boost immunity levels of those who have been quarantined. Their food includes vegetables and fruits which can help in increasing their immunity system.
Q: Jharkhand has a very large number of migrant labourers. Many such people have returned, too. What quarantine measures have you taken for them? What steps have been taken to prevent the spread of the virus?
A: The state government has made several meaningful efforts in that direction. First, all we are trying to ensure that the labourers returning by train should be put through the tests and the suspects among them are quarantined. Some of them are being sent to home-quarantine or government-controlled isolation centres after a due process that involves branding the suspects. This would ensure prevention of the spread. We have also organized social policing under which village heads, school teachers and committees, guards, Anganwadi workers are being involved to spread awareness. This will enable the people to understand the importance of social distancing. People will have to be more careful and responsible to protect themselves against the deadly infection.
Q: What would you say about the coordination with the Centre; did the Centre consult the state on lockdown or was it a one-sided decision?
A: With declaration of lockdown dates, our government has been able to maintain an excellent coordination with the Central government. We have been able to strongly put across issues involving the state interests before the Prime Minister. The migrants’ return has been feasible at the initiative of the Jharkhand government. Secondly, the state’s revenue depends, in many ways, on the Central government. Revenue in the form of GST and mines’ royalty is received from the Centre. Besides, the state is also dependent on the Centre in giving shape to several centrally-sponsored schemes. We have been following Central guidelines on Covid-19. The Centre is being constantly informed about the ground situation in the state.
Q: Yours was the first state that recalled the migrant workers, including engineering and medical students in Kota, Rajasthan. Resources-wise, is the state prepared to look after these workers and professionals?
A: We have been working towards providing employment to the migrant workers. As many as 28 lakh workers were already enrolled under MGNREGA. We are trying to link the returnee migrants with the scheme. We are startegizing with the industry to make available the employment avenues so that livelihood to these people could be ensured. We are involving villagers in planning several schemes for rural development. The government is making efforts to ensure that skilled workers get jobs in accordance with their skills. Other welfare schemes are also in the works so that more and more people could be made self-reliant.
Q: Other CMs before you too tried technology for better administration. How have you been able to solve people’s problems through social media tools? Have these solutions worked on the ground?
A: Social media is a platform through which information concerning people’s welfare can be easly disseminated. This platform can be used in a transparent and unbiased manner. This is a big medium to reach out to people. You must have observed that through Facebook and Twitter several other ministers have been able to solve many propblems of the people.
Q: Jharkahnd is a mineral-rich state, but it has serious problems of employment. How would you approach this problem and how would you ensure jobs for the migrants returning home?
A: See, we made a rough estimate of earlier schemes immediately after our government was formed. The implementation of several schemes has been delayed due to the prevailing pandemic. As soon as government emerges out of this crisis, we will back with implementing those schemes without any delay.
Q: It has been difficult to bring industry to the state on several counts such as land availability and the state’s predominant tribal character. Previous governments did not try to resolve these issues, and even if they did, they could not give them a pratical shape. How would you resolve these issues?
A: Right now we have the Covid-19 crisis before us. The government’s focus is on people’s healthcare and security, it is paying attention to providing employment and making the people self-reliant. Our government is committed to the welfare of tribals, Dalits, minorities and economically backward sections.
Q: Where do you think bottlenecks or problems have existed in the fight against coronavirus because Ranchi and Hindpiri have reported several patients?
A: We are making sincere and serious efforts — people are getting ration at their doorstep. We have intensified awareness campaigns. But government alone can not do everything…people will have to be aware and responsible. On the positive side, half of the patients have recovered and have been discharged.
Q: You have a coalition government in the state, which includes the Congress as well as RJD. Coordination seems lacking between you and the Congress. Do you think, things would improve between you and the ministers? Or do you think the BJP is trying to repeat what it did in Madhya Pradesh?
A: I have full confidence in my council of ministers. We decide on issues with a serious thought. We don’t face any problem on account coordination – coalition partners have coordinated well and will continue to do so. If there are any confusion, then would speak to the party concerned and work towards the welfare of the state.