New Delhi, May 7 : V Narayanswamy, Chief Minister Puducherry rose quickly in Congress party power circles during the 10 year UPA regime and was handed over the important portfolio of Personnel and Grievance and PMO. Once UPA fell out of favour with the electorate in 2014, he was chosen to lead the government in the Union Territory which has not got full statehood. Backed by the confidence shown by 10 Janpath in him, the soft spoken but hardcore politician has shown his administrative capabilities as the chief minister. He spoke to IANS’s Saiyed Moziz Imam Zaidi on a wide variety of contemporary issues. Excerpts:
Q: How is Puducherry coping up with lockdown? Any economic activity has started in the state.
A: Lockdown is a new experience for the people of Puducherry. In fact, there was total closure of economic activities in our state during the lockdown period till May 3. We have only 2 major sources of revenue namely Commercial Tax and Excise Duty. We do not have any minerals and therefore the Puducherry government is facing a financial crunch. In spite of it, we have implemented several welfare schemes for our people in the state — Rs 2,000 for all ration card holders, Rs 5,000 subsidy for the farmers, Rs 10,000 interest free bank loan to the women Self Help Group, Additionally Rs 1,000 for unorganized labourers, Additionally Rs 2,000 for construction workers.
We Started Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme work for the Agricultural labourers. Apart from the rice provided by the Central government 5 kg for each person for three months, we are giving 10 kg per family for three months to the APL families. Now, we slowly started the economic activities by opening the industries and shops.
Q: What is the status of PPE Kits and random tests in the state? How are Migrants feeling in the state?
A: The state government has been writing to the Centre for PPE kits, testing kits, three layer masks, two layer masks, N-95 masks, ventilators, monitors and required medicines. Some of the PPE kits, testing kits have been sent by the Centre including N-95 masks. The testing kits which were provided by them were faulty and it was returned back to the Union Health Ministry. With our own resources, we have purchased ventilators, monitors, PPE kits, N-95 masks and medicines. As far as the migrant workers are concerned, they are safe in Puducherry. In fact, when the industries were closed, 75 per cent of the migrant labourers were taken care by the employers by providing them salary and food, our government put the remaining persons into Community Centres and took care of them. Only about 297 migrant labourers would like to go to their respective places and we are making arrangements for their safe return to their states by providing them financial assistance.
Q: How many active cases are there in the state and the preparation regarding beds and quarantine centres?
A: There are three active cases in Puducherry. At least 2,995 people are in home quarantine. In the adjoining state of Tamil Nadu and in the adjoining districts namely Villupuram and Cuddalore, the COVID-19 cases are increasing. At all India level, Tamil Nadu reached the 4th position in COVID-19 cases. Therefore, we have been struggling very hard to contain the entry of people from Tamil Nadu border. We have a 700-bed Hospital in Indira Gandhi Government Medical College and Research Institute, which has been dedicated to COVID-19. Hospital and Quarantine centre have also been opened.
Q: The Union government has allowed liquor sales and this has caused havoc on social distancing. Do you think liquor shops should be opened?
A: Puducherry being a wet state, liquor is one of the main source of revenue for our state, so far our government has not taken any decision to open liquor shops.
Q: Rahul Gandhi spoke to two noted economists. Both suggested Direct Cash Transfer. Do you think it is feasible?
A: Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi has interacted with former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan and Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee and noted Economists in the country and they gave several suggestions including direct cash transfer. It is possible for the Central government to switch over the direct cash transfer to the people and also economic packages for the states and bail out packages for the industrial sector. The Centre has to come forward to implement the practical suggestions given by the noted economists and also Rahul Gandhi.
Q: Is the Union Government cooperating with your state? What do you expect from the Central Government for your state?
A: Our Puducherry government has been requesting the Union Government to provide the GST compensation, 7th pay Commission arrears, pension amount for retired employees, Grants and additional grants, increase in the borrowing limit from 3 per cent to 5 per cent. But so far I have not received any positive response from the Centre. This is the time for the Central Government to come to the rescue of the state for revival of the economy of all the states.
Q: Any of the COVID-19 positive cases has any link with Tablighi Jamaat and how did you manage to trace them?
A: Our State was a Coronavirus free state before the Tablighi Jamaat episode. Seven persons in Puducherry and 4 people from Karaikal returned after attending the Tablighi Jamaat in which 4 of them in Puducherry were found to be COVID-19 positive and that is the only case which our state had. Because of our positive steps, we are able to contain the effect of coronavirus. We have also traced the contact people and in our state, we have screened the entire population and also did a large number of tests next to Delhi.
Q: Delhi is demanding full statehood. Do you think Puduchery be given full statehood and why?
A: The demand for statehood has been pending with the Central Government and we have got all the qualifications to become state. But, unfortunately the Centre has not taken any decision so far.
Q: Your differences with the Lt. Governor is well known what are the contentious issues which are the basis of conflict? Do you think the Lt. Governor is crossing the ‘Laxman Rekha’ and acting on behest of the Union Government?
A: For the last four years, Lt. Governor Dr. Kiran Bedi has been creating hurdles in the running of the government. We have been forced to go to the court. The Division Bench of the High Court of Chennai gave a ruling that the elected government is responsible to run the administration, the Lt. Governor has no independent power and if there is difference of opinion between the elected government and Lt. Governor and it has to be resolved by the Hon’ble President of India. Ignoring the Court judgement the Hon’ble Lt. Governor is acting in an unconstitutional and illegal manner for which we are taking further legal course. Even during the Coronavirus crisis she has not stopped her illegal and unconstitutional activities and her interference in the government functioning is going on everyday. I wrote a letter to the Central government, but she is crossing Laxman Rekha day in and day out.
Q: The Congress says in fighting the COVID-19, there is one man show. Do you think PM Narendra Modi is acting alone without taking the CMs into confidence?
A: When the COVID-19 effect started, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown without consulting the states and thereafter the states were consulted for the second lockdown but in the third lockdown, states were not taken into confidence. But due consultation is required by the Central Government especially the Prime Minister with the Chief Ministers in a federal structure that is lacking in the Central Government and all the Chief Ministers have to be taken into confidence before taking any decision by the Centre. Then alone there will be cooperative federalism. The Congress party also has been giving several practical suggestions to the Centre. But I feel that those suggestions are not being considered.
Today is a period of crisis and all are working together to save the people from the COVID-19 pandemic disaster and therefore the Government should be liberal in supporting the States to come out of the crisis.
(Saiyed Moziz Imam Zaidi can be respectively contacted at [email protected])