What is the Covid-19 situation in UP and the plan to ease restrictions?
Today our positivity rate is 0.6% while the recovery rate is 97%. I can now say the second wave of Corona has been arrested. We will now open up in a phased manner after May 31. The situation will normalise to a great extent in the next week.
How do you plan to ramp up vaccination, prepare for the third wave?
We have started preparations for a possible third wave. I just toured the state for that purpose. UP has built post-covid wards in every district for free treatment to those reporting complications even after their Covid report came negative. We are also building 100-bed and 25-bed pediatric ICUs in medical colleges and district hospitals, respectively. We have also begun to train manpower for the same. As for vaccination, we have so far administered close to 2 crore doses. From June 1, we are opening up vaccination for 18-44 age category in all 75 districts. We have started building special booths for parents of children below 12 years. This category is more exposed to the virus as they go to work and must be inoculated in preparation for the third wave.
What about vaccine hesitancy in rural areas?
There is hesitancy to both testing and vaccination in villages, which is why we have tasked gram pradhans, anganwadi and Asha workers. We are putting up posters in villages of people who have vaccinated themselves. We have set up common service centers (CSCs) in each of the 58,000 gram panchayats, manned by skilled personnel for documentary and online work. Basically, people can get themselves registered and vaccinated at one place.
How do you respond to allegations of under-reporting and data misrepresentation?
People who are oblivious to facts and ground realities are bound to make such allegations. All data entry is taking place online, linked through a national software. Also, it is not just our state machinery working here. There are agencies like the UNICEF and WHO, besides central agencies, which are also in the field. WHO has deployed 2,000 workers here. It has also appreciated the UP model of door-to- door survey, testing and provision of medicine in rural areas. The Niti Aayog has asked other states to replicate it. A model cannot develop without any substance in it. Our recovery rate reflects there is no data fudging taking place. If we were doing so, the recovery rate would have been lower. With 3.5-4 lakh, we are also testing the most number of samples in the country every day.
But still, visuals of bodies floating in the Ganga and buried in the sands will always be recalled?
You would have seen these visuals in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and before that too, when there was no Covid. In India, customs and traditions built around our rivers date back to ancient times. Floating dead bodies in the river is seen as a means to salvation by some. If you look at traditions followed by monks, all three types of tradition co-exist — cremation, burial as well as jal pravah. These traditions exist even among those who are married, as well as in communities like Dasnami Sampradaya, Giri, Puri. Communities residing by the rivers especially take to this kind of practice. There was a furore on this in 2014, also in 2015 when it became a big issue in the media. We had run awareness campaigns under the Namami Gange regarding these traditions.
In the first wave, I had given funds to gram panchayats and municipal corporations to conduct proper cremations. These local bodies could spend up to 5,000 on last rites after ascertaining that the family of the deceased could not afford it. But in the second wave, our administrative machinery got pre-occupied in Covid management and these events (episode of floating bodies) happened. Traditionally also there are rules for jal pravah, that the body is tied to a heavy object so it sinks and doesn’t float on the surface. However, because the Covid scare was so high, even non-Covid patients that may have been cremated this way, were done without following these norms. Usually, entire villages accompany the dead for cremation but this was not so during this wave.
We have now formed committees headed by gram pradhans and heads of municipal corporations to make sure bodies are not floated in the river. Besides starting a campaign, we have deployed SDRF units, PAC flood units to patrol these areas.
But these visuals have raised doubts on deaths being undercounted?
Hospitals are linked with an online portal where they have to update Covid deaths. There could be delay in uploading but hospitals cannot hide data. They are held accountable. Also, if people are dying and numbers are being hidden, then someone will come out to speak up against it, right? Aisa nahi hai ki koi mar jaaye aur chup chaap uska daah sanskar kar diya jaaye. That just cannot happen. The entire system is transparent. UP would, perhaps, be the first state where all hospitals are under central CCTV surveillance. I can monitor the happenings in a hospital in Gorakhpur through my tablet in Lucknow.
Look, we are facing a rare global pandemic. But still, some people want to use it to play politics. People will give them a befitting reply.
Do you regret holding the panchayat elections?
It’s a constitutional mandate. They were due to take place last year only but we had deferred them. Then the matter was taken to court. I am surprised that those who had earlier approached the court to hold the elections, later created a furore over them being held. They want to have it both ways- chit bhi meri pat bhi meri — this is not possible. The HC called for holding the elections in a certain way. The state election commission announced the dates and the government supported it with the necessary machinery. Now, I have a question to ask. Panchayat elections in UP are the most difficult elections to hold but polls were also held in Tamil Nadu as well as in Kerala and West Bengal. You can compare their positivity and recovery rate with that of UP and see the difference. Secondly, there were no elections in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh or Rajasthan or Delhi. Therefore, we must understand the ground realities and make a strategy instead of resorting to hair splitting and making propaganda.
Did BJP’s performance disappoint you?
Panchayat elections were not fought on party symbols. No senior leader or star campaigner was also sent. The issues were very local and fought primarily on the candidate’s reputation and past work. It’s not rational to guess assembly election outcomes on the basis of panchayat polls. In 1995, Samajwadi Party had registered huge wins in panchayat elections, but lost assembly polls a year later. Similarly, in 2010, the Bahujan Samaj Party won the polls but lost assembly polls in 2012. In 2015, SP had once again claimed big wins but everyone knows what happened in 2017. Strategy for assembly elections is entirely different.
Is it of concern that many BJP MLAs are speaking out against the government, its bureaucracy and the police?
This was never a cause of concern. Those who are serving people will receive their blessings. And mind you, no IAS or IPS can either form or bring down a government. It is the public who makes or breaks a government. If an elected representative has shown dedication towards public service, then he or she is going to get blessings of the people. Those who indulged in making unnecessary statements, have always faced embarrassments.
Is the party active as an organisation on ground as you would like it to be?
Both the government as well as the party are engaged in serving the people. We are now scaling up our vaccination booths from 2,500 centres to more than 5,000 from June 1. There will be a waiting area and observation area made in these booths where BJP workers will help. They are also assisting in ration distribution under the PM Garib Kalyan Package. They are also filling the gaps in distribution of medicine kits in villages.
How is the Covid situation in villages?
There was this apprehension that UP’s villages are seeing very high infections but when we deployed surveillance committees we found that only 32% villages saw infections. And they were those next to cities. So, 68% villages were able to protect themselves from the infection through containment measures own their own, even if the government reached later. One can sit anywhere and express doubts.
Oxygen shortage became a major policy issue, especially in NCR districts with Delhi. Your comments?
UP has 25 crore population but was allotted 700 MT oxygen per day. Delhi has a population of 1.75 crore but was forcefully allotted 700 MT oxygen. When the issue of audit came up, Delhi government pulled back. In UP, the state government had itself tasked seven institutions including IIT Kanpur, IIM Lucknow, IIT BHU, among others for oxygen audits across the state. In Delhi, despite getting adequate oxygen, there was mismanagement, adverse events took place. The courts had to intervene.
We never opposed Delhi getting oxygen, like from the Inox plant in Modinagar in UP. We were able to manage from other sources allotted by central govt, from Jamnagar, Uttarakahand, Jamshedpur. We made sure there was no crisis in the state and we lent to Delhi as well.
How are you creating oxygen sufficiency for the future?
I was astonished at the statements made by some responsible people and institutions of our country. A situation of panic was created due to which even those who did not need it, became desperate for oxygen. Also, for Remdesivir and Tocilizumab. We should try to be calm and show restraint in a crisis, not increase panic through irresponsible statements.
We did face acute shortages for a few days but soon, the Centre started allocating oxygen through rail and air force. For the future, we are setting up more than 400 oxygen plants across the state.
How do you plan to spur economic growth?
UP was the sixth largest economy in 2014-15. We have brought it to the second spot. In last four years, more than 3 lakh crore has been invested in the state. Since March 2020, we have got Rs 75,000 crore worth investment. Covid has, of course, been a setback. But we are focusing on developing infrastructure on a war footing — be it Purvanchal Expressway, Ganga e-way, Bundelkhand e-way etc.
Besides the Jewar Airport, we are also waiting to operationalize the Kushinagar international airport where work is almost complete. Ayodhya too is getting an international airport. Besides, under the Udan scheme, work is on for developing 17 new airports in districts like Sonbhadra, Azamgarh, Shravasti, among others.
How do you view the change in vaccination policy post May 1, allowing states to procure vaccines for the 18-44 category?
States had only demanded this so that they could procure according to their needs. We have no objection. Centre and states will have to work together to complete this task on time.
Any response to the global tender?
In the pre-bid that took place, some companies showed interest. Covishield and Covaxin manufacturing companies said that they are supplying through the central government route. Sputnik,
and Moderna have shown interest. We have extended the dates, made some changes in our tender also. A lot of the companies want the government of India to get involved, so Centre has started work on that front.