The coronavirus pandemic is taking a huge toll and India the fourth worst-affected country in the world. However, few States have managed to keep the virus at bay. This includes the tribal-state of Chhattisgarh. With cases less than 3000, the State sets an example of how to efficaciously tackle the virus.

In an interview with the BusinessLine , Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel revealed his strategy to tackle the coronavirus and the changes he has brought about after assuming power. Excerpts:

Chhattisgarh fared well in the fight against the virus. However, the second wave has taken the tally up. How is the State responding ?

Our strategy has been effective and efficient. There were around four lots that needed special attention. The first came from abroad in early March. Their number was around 2,100. We deployed officials to track and examine them.

The second lot was of the people who came from Delhi Markaz, in which we found around 107 Covid-19-positive people. We successfully contained the virus until the third lot arrived.

The third lot was of the migrants whose figure stood at 5,00,000. We are still tracing them via aggressive testing and random sampling method. These lots predominantly belonged to hinterlands. Hence, we established quarantine centres in rural areas and provided them with basic necessities.

Our strategy kept the mortality rate as low as possible. Only 12 people have died so far, of which eight already had co-morbidities and the main reason behind their death was not Covid-19 We have around 2,500 patients and only 800 in hospitals (as of June 30).

How is your government addressing the coronavirus crisis?

The economy is in the doldrums due to the pandemic. So, we decided to keep the MNREGA scheme functional throughout the lockdown. This raised employment for around 26,00,000 daily wagers during the lockdown.

For farmers, we launched Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Yojana and pumped in ₹1,500 crore to buy grains from them.

Chhattisgarh is India’s hub for minor forest produce, including tamarind, mahua, and tendu leaves. We bought one sack of forest produce for ₹4,000. Around ₹2,000 crore was earned by 12-13 lakh tribal families by selling forest products during the lockdown.

As far as the industrial sector is concerned, Chhattisgarh outdid all States in India by producing close to 27 lakh tonnes of steel. We employed around 1,50,000 lobourers for the production as the administration decided not to shut the steel plants during the lockdown.

What do you want to say about the exclusion of Chhattisgarh from the States listed under PM’s Garib Kalyan Yojana?

There is no doubt that Chhattisgarh should have been included in the scheme. The State has 28 districts, of which 10 come under aspirational districts. And these districts have been labelled by the Centre itself. Moreover, around 40 per cent of the population of the State lives below the poverty line.

How have you rebooted Chhattisgarh in terms of welfare programmes after assuming the role of the Chief Minister?

We have launched many welfare schemes that especially cater to the rural population. Recently, we launched the first of its kind initiative wherein the administration will buy cow dung from farmers. The project aims to solve the problem of domestic animals loitering on the road, leading to accidents. This will also encourage farmers to collect cow dung and earn some income.

We have established 2,200 centres and will open 2,800 more this year. The centres will collect the dung from cattle ranchers. They will collaborate with Mahila Swasahita Samuh to form vermicompost, which will then be sold to people involved in farming, horticulture, and States which want to collaborate with us.

What is your stance on the Centre’s decision to auction coal blocks for commercial mining?

We have written a letter to the Centre regarding our concerns over their proposed coal project in the Hasdeo biodiversity area. I personally had a word with the Home Minister. The plan will be a severe blow to the rich forest and since it is in the catchment area, many districts would face an unprecedented water crisis.