'Karnataka was better prepared for COVID-19 than other states': BS Yediyurappa on governance, jobs and coronavirus
It has not been smooth sailing for Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa over the past nine months since he assumed power
It has not been smooth sailing for Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa over the past nine months since he assumed power. Initially, it was the uncertainty of a minority government, later the pressure from his own party legislators for cabinet berths, followed by floods in several districts. Just when he thought he would settle down to administer after presenting his tailor-made budget, the coronavirus pandemic struck.
During the 44 days of the lockdown period so far, the 78-year old faced some embarrassing moments when some of his cabinet colleagues tried to upstage each other in their respective bids to handle the COVID-19 situation. The crisis has also taught Yediyurappa to become tech savvy and for a person who used to pull slips of paper from his pocket to prompt him on issues, the chief minister is now comfortable video-conferencing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state government officials.
While the handling of migrant labourers — in terms of arranging transport for them — led to confusion, a course-correction was embarked upon after the Congress applied pressure. Yediyurappa's Rs 1,610-crore package for the unorganised sectors on Wednesday was also appreciated in all quarters. In an interview, he said, "COVID-19 has taught a lesson not only to the elected representatives, but to all mankind that no one is bigger than God and nature."
Edited excerpts of the interview follow:
While presenting the 2020-2021 budget, you had admitted that the state was facing the worst financial crisis ever as the GST received from the Centre for 2019-2020 was low. How has COVID-19 impacted the state's fiscal position?
Obviously, Karnataka is going through a financial crisis, which is a global phenomenon. Decrease in GST devolution is only one of the factors. We have been pursuing this matter with the Union government and hope to get some relief. But due to the pandemic, the situation is no better now. But we are making all efforts to mobilise funds and trying to reduce unnecessary expenditure. Resuming economic activities would provide a fresh lease of life, I believe.
Is there any plan to merge some of the departments such as minor irrigation with water resources and backward classes with social welfare to cut wasteful expenditure?
Yes, as part of bringing reforms and enhance efficiency in governance, we are looking at various possibilities. A cabinet sub-committee headed by Revenue Minister R Ashoka will examine this subject and submit its report soon. We will take necessary steps once the report is received.
Why was there so much chaos in transporting migrants with the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) charging double to ferry them, especially when other states have sent special buses and arranged for trains to bring back daily wagers?
We are facing a crisis that has never occurred before. Although on the first day, we reduced the fare, free bus services were available for migrants till 7 May. On 3 May alone, 951 KSRTC buses were provided. Till 7 May, 1,00,500 migrants have travelled to their hometowns in 3,350 buses buses from Bengaluru. Free food and drinking water has been provided to all passengers and standard operating procedures (SOP) are being followed to prevent the spread of the disease.
Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda has urged you to announce a special package for the farmers on the lines of the support that is being given to milk producers? Would you consider it?
My government is monitoring the situation on all fronts. This was the reason we were able to announce a special package of Rs 1,610 crore for all sections of society including farmers. My government is a pro-farmer one and is aware of the farmers' situation. During the lockdown, [my government] has taken all necessary steps to ensure that all farming activities including markets are unaffected. The Centre has released first instalment of PM-KISAN aid of Rs 2,000 to the farmers. The state government has also decided to release its first instalment. Flower, fruit and vegetable growers, MSMEs, badly-hit workers in unorganised sectors like barbers, washermen, autorickshaw and taxi drivers, and weavers will benefit from the special package.
Even as the state government is doing its best to help ease people's lives in the lockdown period, some BJP leaders have been misusing the situation. Food grain released by the Government of India is being repacked and rebranded by some of the BJP leaders and the Congress has exposed this with documentary evidence. Why has no action been taken so far against those who have been named in the scam?
The Congress leaders have no issues on which to criticise us and the government which has done a commendable work to tackle COVID-19 and provide succour to the affected people. The Congress leaders are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. Officers, at my behest, visited the spot (KPCC president DK Shivakumar and his brother, Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha MP DK Suresh had alleged — with video proof — that BJP leaders were rebranding food grain released by the Centre for aanganwadi children and pregnant women with their own names and the BJP symbol).
In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has promised jobs to all migrants. Will you also give similar assurances?
My priority has always been job creation and at this time, we will definitely take all possible measures for the well-being of every citizen in this state. In fact, I have appealed to all local and other migrant labourers to stay back on at their places of work [in Karnataka]. I want to clarify that we have looked after the migrants well. Not a single person from the state has complained of starvation. This itself indicates how the Karnataka government is treating migrant labourers.
What are the lessons from COVID-19?
This has been a testing time for all of us. As Modi rightly put it, we need to focus on jaan and jahaan (life and livelihood). But we can achieve anything we desire, if we go together. We have never come across such a crisis in modern history. This disease has taught a lesson not only to the elected representatives, but to all mankind, that no one is bigger than God and nature.
You have faced many challenges in your political career: Where does handling COVID-19 rank in that list?
Obviously this is one of the biggest challenges I have faced. But, strong will, concern for the people and support and cooperation from all stakeholders have helped me immensely to take on this challenge.
Karnataka was noticed at the national level for keeping the number of COVID-19 positive cases and deaths under control, how was the situation managed?
Karnataka was the first state in the country to think of a lockdown and it strictly adhered to lockdown measures, surveillance, vigilance and followed all the guidelines of the Central government as well as the instructions given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Screening of foreign travellers, quarantining of the primary and secondary contacts, appropriate usage of technology and an increase in the number of tests helped us to contain COVID-19.
The state made necessary arrangements for early admission of cases and was prepared to manage critical cases to curb deaths. I must admit that the entire government machinery with support from the people of Karnataka has been fighting this pandemic. Hence, the state is in a better position in the absolute number of cases, compared to larger states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and rest of the southern states.
How different is Lockdown 3.0 for Karnataka with some relaxations shown in green and orange zones? Additionally, how is the government handling this since there will be movement of people in some of the zones?
The first two lockdowns meant complete shutdowns, except for essential services. The state government has decided to allow inter-state and inter-district movement of people and also to begin economic activities as permitted in the guidelines issued by the Centre. Directions have been given to undertake economic activities and resume industrial operations after 4 May as per the Union government's guidelines. We have already permitted the reopening of industries in green zones. But all these activities are being taken up with appropriate preventive measures.
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