Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Wednesday held broad-based consultations with senior leaders of various parties, including the Congress, SAD, AAP and CPI, on the way forward for the state in the current crisis, and sought their suggestions on the preparatory steps to be taken to ensure gradual return to normalcy.
The Chief Minister held a series of separate calls with SAD’s Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, AAP’s Harpal Singh Cheema (Leader of Opposition in Vidhan Sabha) and CPI’s Hardev Singh Arshi, preceded by a Video Conference with the Congress MLAs led by party chief Sunil Jakhar.
All the party leaders extended their support to the state government in its fight against COVID-19 and broadly agreed with the government line of action in tackling the problem, though the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders were in favour of distribution of more food packets through the government machinery in the state, an official spokesperson said. The chief minister also assured all the opposition leaders of all possible help from his government.
The Punjab Congress gave complete authority to the Chief Minister to take any decision he deemed fit to deal with the situation as he deemed fit in the larger interest of the state and its people.
Describing the COVID-19 situation as a developing one, with statistics from the world suggesting that things were not good, the Chief Minister said while India was still doing better than many advanced countries, on account of the early lockdown/curfew. But one could not afford to be complacent, he warned.
The Chief Minister said whatever steps are taken shall be keeping in mind the interest of the people, who also wanted stern measures to tackle the unprecedented crisis.
Earlier, during the video conference with the Congress MLAs, the Chief Minister, while sharing the latest status on COVID-19, said there had been a sudden spike in cases in Punjab as a result of the Tabligi Jamaat incident of Nizamuddin (Delhi), from where 573 people had come to the state. Of these all but 38 had been traced.
In response to a concern expressed by Fateh Bajwa (Gurdaspur) on vilification of NRIs, who he said were scared, the Chief Minister said there was no question of vilifying them. He appealed to the NRIs not to be scared but to come forward and disclose their travel history, assuring them that they would not be harassed. Bajwa earlier said NRIs were the lifeline of Punjab and had contributed immensely to the state’s economy.
During the video conference, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and Speaker Rana KP Singh complimented the Chief Minister for the excellent job done by him and his government in handling the current crisis.
The party would full support to the government in any decision taken on this issue in the days ahead too, said Jakhar.
The Speaker also seconded Jakhar, saying whatever further steps are taken by the government to save the lives of the people would have the full support of the party as well as the citizens of Punjab. He lauded the Chief Minister for setting an example by imposing curfew to combat the pandemic and keeping the spread under check in the state, despite the fact that it had received around 1.5 lakh NRIs and other travelers from some of the worst affected countries in recent weeks. He suggested involving Nambardars in tracking/tracing infected people and enforcing the curfew restrictions.
The Chief Minister also asked the Food department to intensify distribution of dry rations as some of the MLAs said the same were not reaching all the needy people. Inderjit Boleria (Amritsar) said the have-nots were having problems as the demand-supply gap for dry rations was huge. The Chief Minister said there had been some delay earlier because of insufficient supply of dal from Markfed but things were now on track, and of the 10 lakh bags, 6 lakh were already in the process of distribution. He further clarified that the dry rations were only for those who did not have blue cards.
There were suggestions of also including tea leave packets and spices in the rations, and increasing the number of bags to 15 lakhs. The Chief Minister assured that nobody would be allowed to go hungry in the state and the number of bags would be increased if needed.
Responding to queries by certain MLAs, the Chief Minister said the state was fully geared to handle the upcoming harvesting and procurement season, with nearly 3800 Mandis being set up and CCL also received from RBI. He, however, expressed concern that the Centre had yet to approve the incentive suggested by the state government for farmers delaying bringing their produce to the markets. On the issue of shortage of gunny bales, he said the state had 72% of the amount needed and was trying to get the remaining from West Bengal, but would use PP bags if the same do not come in time.
Harminder Singh Gill (Tarn Taran) called for further strengthening of the healthcare facilities, while complimenting the police for their exemplary role in dealing with the current crisis. Sangat Singh Gilzian (Hoshiarpur) suggested special trains to run from Bihar to get labour for harvesting and doorstep delivery of old age pension through Sarpanches. Parminder Singh Pinki (Ferozepur) also expressed apprehension of shortage of labour for harvesting.
Many of the MLAs, including Parminder Singh Pinki, Kuljit Singh Nagra (Fatehgarh Sahib), Dalvir Singh Goldy (Sangrur) and Fateh Jang Singh Bajwa wanted extension in curfew/lockdown with some relaxations. Raja Warring said there should be no let-up in toughness on the part of the government and he also appreciated the Deras for the help extended by them to the government.
The Chief Minister assured them that their views would be taken into account while taking any decisions on the curfew and restrictions in the coming days.