North-East model of dealing with Covid-19 can be a template: Jitendra Singh

Richa Mishra New Delhi | Updated on May 21, 2020

“Tourism is the main source of revenue for both the North East as well as J&K. I think in the days to come, we will find alternative means of livelihood for the people...,” said Union Minister of State for Development of North Eastern Region (Independent Charge) Jitendra Singh.

Singh has his plate full as he is not only responsible for Development of North Eastern Region (DONER), but also wears the hat of a junior Minister for Prime Minister's Office; Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions; Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Space. In conversation with BusinessLine, Singh shared his thoughts on how NE has successfully coped with the Covid-19 challenge and how the model can be adopted across the country. Excerpts:

The North-East is said to be the safest zone during these Covid-19 times. Are you adopting any specific strategy for the region?

The North-East has fared better than most other States. While it has evolved as the model for development under the Prime Minister in the last six years, it has emerged as the model for Covid-19 management in the last six weeks.

What is appreciable is that we never had too many Covid-19 positive cases — just 40-odd cases and the five N-E States are Covid-19-free now. Sikkim and Nagaland did not report a single Covid-19 case. We have a lot to learn from them in the context of Covid-19 management.

What is the North-East model of Covid-19 management?

The government is sensitive towards the people of the region. Right from start, it was decided that air cargo supplies to the North-East would be given priority. We received the first air cargo by Air India on March 31. This gave people the reassurance that there would be no shortage of supplies.

Next, sealing the borders early worked well in containing the movement.

The region shares borders with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. And you see the remarkable outcome — Sikkim has remained absolutely Covid-19 free.

Most importantly, apart from being innovative, the people were extremely disciplined and followed the guidelines.

For example, marking the white circles for social distancing was first started in the North-East, the others followed suits.

Similarly, they have installed makeshift umbrellas in the market place to beat the summer heat, especially when following social distancing.

Besides, the women self-help groups in the region were making face masks right from the early days of Covid-19 to meet the demand.

The coordination between the local administration and DONER Ministry has been good. When movement from Bangladesh to Tripura started, there were infiltration concerns. Keeping a check on that and enabling trade was done smoothly with good coordination and support from civil society.

How has the migrant movement been tackled ?

There were challenges. Initially, we were receiving about 500 calls a day; even I was getting calls directly. Everyone wanted to return home at the earliest.

We tried to explain to them that there is a distinction between movement by necessity and movement by choice. We have taken a decision that we will first facilitate the migrant labourers because they have got stranded for no fault of theirs. We told those calling us that we understand their impatience and to bear with us.

In Jammu & Kashmir, apart from Covid-19 challenges, there are other concerns too. How you are managing?

The para-military forces and army are fighting bravely and effectively.

The CRPF has been fully engaged with the civil society and health workers in Covid-19 relief work. Armed forces medical services were the first to come out with testing facility. The Command Hospital in Udhampur came out with the testing and diagnostic facility.

The hospital arranged for 200 beds and a number of ICU beds even before civil administration could actually reach that level of preparedness. There has been an surge in the number of Covid-19 cases over the last few days, but that is because the number of samples has increased; it is still not a pessimistic situation.

Jammu & Kashmir and North-East both are hit by collapse in tourism. Expectations were that the Finance Minister package would have something, but nothing happened...

Tourism is the main source of revenue for both the regions. But we have to bear with it. I think in the days to come we will find an alternative means for their livelihood. Out of the funds available, the States and the Union Territories are working out something. They are seized of the situation.

Published on May 21, 2020

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