Regretting that the Government of India had failed to provide any help to the small states in fighting the impact of the Covid outbreak and the prolonged lockdown, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder on Friday said it was the duty of the Centre to come forward in fighting this national battle and help the states revive their battered economies.Even though Punjab was on top of the Covid situation and had managed to control the medical aspect of the problem to a great extent, economic revival would require support from the central government, said the Chief Minister, at a video press conference.At the moment, all steps to restart the economic activity in Punjab were purely the result of the state government’s own efforts, said Captain Amarinder, describing the Government of India’s present attitude as a sad state of affairs. Pointing to the conditional increase in the borrowing limit of GSDP, he said by curtailing the state’s rights the central government had negated the benefit of even the miniscule and delayed financial help it had extended.On the initiatives being taken by the state to revive its economy amid COVID 19, the Chief Minister said that nearly Rs.24000 crore has been pumped into rural economy as a result of the bumper wheat crop during the just concluded Rabi season.Further, Captain Amarinder revealed that of the total 2.56 lakh industrial units in the state, all but 20,000 had resumed operations. However, the industry in Punjab would take some time to run to its optimum level, he said, urging the Government of India to bail out the small and medium industries, in particular, in this difficult time.Asked to comment on the recent conversation on this issue between Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and industrialist Rahul Bajaj, the Chief Minister said they were both right, as both, the GDP and the lives of the people were important. Though the lockdown was necessary to save lives, it was now vital to revive the state’s economy, for which the panel of experts led by economist Montek Singh Ahluwalia was preparing a blueprint, he added. On migrants willingly staying back in Punjab, the Chief Minister pointed out out of 11.50 Lakh of those who had applied to return to their homes, more than 5 Lakh had decided to stay back in Punjab with the opening of the industries.
Many were also now wanting to come back to Punjab from states like Bihar and UP to resume work, he said, adding that the labourers who had gone back to their homes were talking of the care taken by the Punjab government, with the support of the police, NGOs, religious organisations etc. The state government, said Captain Amarinder, had been doing its best despite the meager resources at its disposal. To a question regarding shortage of labour during the paddy sowing season, Captain Amarinder that in his season, nearly 30% of paddy had been sown through direct seeding, which is less labour intensive and more cost-effective. The Chief Minister further said that the industry was also taking initiatives, such as pay hikes, to retain labour. However, it is the small industry, which hires the majority of the migrant workers, that needs immediate support for revival, he added.Regarding the state’s preparedness to handle the threat of Covid spread in view of the reopening of the industry, businesses and others, Captain Amarinder said all measures were being taken, with strict adherence to protocols, including thermal checking. Underlining the need for extreme cautions, he urged the people to act responsibly and follow all protocols and get their thermal checks done whenever they step out.The Chief Minister said the state government was on top of the situation in its fight against Covid, despite reports of possible community spread coming frequently from various cities in recent days. The problem gets aggravated by the failure of the people to go for medical checks on coming in contact with infected persons or on showing even the slightest of symptoms, he added. On the opening of gyms, schools etc, he pointed out that these decisions were in the Centre’s domain under the National Disaster Act, which is currently invoked in the country.On the issue of power rate cuts for the domestic centre, the Chief Minister said 52,000 domestic consumers in the lowest category had benefitted, along with consumers of second category. The state government was duty bound to support PSPCL through subsidy payment despite the fiscal crunch it was facing, he said, adding that the Discom had been suffering a net loss of Rs.30 crore per day during the lockdown period.In response to a question, Captain Amarinder assured that the state government would soon clear its dues of the cooperative sugar mills, and was also pressurising the private mill owners to pay off their dues to the farmers.