Puducherry’s lockdown exit plan depends on Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister explains – india news
Puducherry chief minister V Narayanasamy says he will lift the lockdown only after assessing the situation in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. In an interview, he says that tourism will not be allowed in Puducherry for the time being and the Union Territory will implement the odd-even scheme for the movement of vehicles even if the lockdown is lifted. Edited excerpts:
Q: Out of the seven coronavirus cases in Puducherry, only three are active now. How did you manage that?
A: We had announced the lockdown on March 23 and sealed the border with Tamil Nadu. We had around 6000 foreign tourists from February 22 to March 20. Around 20% of them were staying on the day of the announcement of lockdown and 80% had already left. They were staying in around 300 hotels across Puducherry. These included those who stayed at Auroville. So, we identified around 550 people who came in contact with the tourists in hotels and other places and put them in quarantine. I also announced a prison term of one year for anyone violating the restrictions. We have been able to contain the pandemic through these measures despite the situation in neighbouring Tamil Nadu going beyond anybody’s imagination. The Prime Minister also told me you are a lucky person.
Q: Are you satisfied with the Central assistance?
A: Except rice, nothing has been given. I had also informed the Prime Minister that we have not been given the GST compensation for four months. We are yet to receive any additional grants. Besides, the arrears of the seventh pay commission haven’t been paid to us yet.
Q: Are you allowing some economic activity in the UT?
A: We have allowed agricultural activities, movement of foodgrains, harvesting, sowing, and opening of fertiliser, seeds and pesticide shops. We wanted to start government and unfinished construction but we are careful as far as industrial activity is concerned.
Q: Will you lift the lockdown completely on May 3?
A: Even if the Central government decides to lift it, we will take a call depending on the local conditions. But much depends on the situation in neighbouring Tamil Nadu where the number of coronavirus cases is significantly increasing every day. If the situation is serious there, we will not lift the lockdown. But whatever call we take will l be a well thought out one.
Q: But what is your exit strategy whenever you decide to lift it?
A: We will not allow any tourism in Puducherry for the time being. Similarly, we will not open our border with Tamil Nadu. We will go for odd-even formula in allowing movement of vehicles. We will allow two wheelers first and then four wheelers depending on the situation. As far as schools and colleges are concerned, the online classes have already started. We have told the government offices that only 33% of the staff will be allowed to come to work on a day, the officials will have to follow strict social distancing norms, use masks and sanitisers. Strict procedure will be followed in industries too. We have instructed that only 33% of the total capacity should be run, all buildings must be sanitised, employees should be from nearby places, they should go for health check-ups every day and insurance cover should be provided to them. We have told the industry to go slow and in a staggered manner. If any industry is found violating these norms, we will seal it.
Q: What led to the fresh tussle between you and the L-G?
A: The Central government announced 5kg of wheat or rice to every poor under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana. When we wanted to distribute free rice and wheat to the poor people, the L-G [Kiran Bedi] stalled it. She directed that instead of rice or wheat, money should be given to them. She even raised the issue during her video conferencing with President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu. But I got the letter from union food minister Ram Vilas Paswan saying that besides rice or wheat we also have to distribute dal. I also complained about it to the Prime Minister with whom I spoke a day after his video conference with chief ministers on April 11. I told him that she is not allowing us to distribute free rice to the poor as provided by the central government. Moreover, I told him that we have not been provided with any financial assistance so far. The Prime Minister said he will look into it. I also spoke to home minister Amit Shah and complained to him as well. The L-G is also blocking distribution of free rice to APL [above poverty line] families during the lockdown period. I now have written to the central government about this also.
Q: Did the Prime Minister and the home minister give any assurance to you in this regard?
A: The Prime Minister heard it and the home minister assured me that he will talk to her (Kiran Bedi).