NEW DELHI: The strength of federalism has come to the fore in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic with many chief ministers coordinating with each other to help out people stranded outside their home states, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said on Thursday.
Soren said he spoke with chief ministers of various states, including Kerala, Maharashtra and Delhi, where people of Jharkhand were working and they promised all support.
In an interview to PTI, he said based on the total calls received at the migrant helpline being run by the state's labour department, there are about 7 lakh Jharkhandis who are currently outside the state, Soren said lifting the lockdown is a "big challenge" and must be given a considered thought.
Though the spread of the coronavirus has been kept in check in Jharkhand, things could change if a large number of people return to the state from various parts of the country, he said.
"The prime minister (Narendra Modi) did not ask the states while imposing the lockdown and now he is asking states for suggestions to open the lockdown," he said.
The nationwide lockdown was imposed from March 25 by the Centre to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has claimed 166 lives and infected 5,734 people across the country.
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Soren said his government started work early and that had helped in keeping COVID-19 cases in check.
"About two lakh people came into our state after the lockdown somehow, but we had put mechanisms in place to deal with the situation. Now details of 1.75 lakh out of those people are with us. Some people belong to Jharkhand, while others are from West Bengal and other states," he said.
They are in home quarantine and information on them could be obtained as the committees were formed by the state government at the district, block, village and panchayat levels, Soren said.
"We have also set up information centres. There is one for people within the state and the other is for people from our state stuck in other states," he said.
The chief minister also said Jharkhand was largely dependent on the Centre for resources and would need a dedicated financial package to deal with the crisis.
"Due to the imposition of the GST, the central government has already broken the back of states. We would need a dedicated package from the Centre. We would also need more health equipment," he said.
Soren said the Centre had given about Rs 250 crore to Jharkhand from the package announced by it nationally and it also received some pending dues, but that is not enough.
The Jharkhand chief minister also asserted that India's federalism had manifested itself during the COVID-19 crisis and many chief ministers were coordinating with each other.
"In this time of crisis, the strength of the federal structure has come to the fore. I spoke personally with various CMs - Kerala (Pinarayi Vijayan), Maharashtra (Uddhav Thackeray) and Delhi (Arvind Kejriwal) - where our people are stuck," Soren said.
"Based on total calls received in the Migrants Helpline control room, approximately 7 lakh of our people are outside the state. There are two nodal officers appointed for each state, they have also done good work. I would like to thank the CMs of other states who have helped our people," he said.
Soren said the Kerala chief minister had even told him that people from Jharkhand will even be provided "chawal (rice) and dal" instead of South Indian food, but they must stay put.
An example of cooperation among chief ministers was witnessed earlier this week when Soren asked Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami to act over the issue of about 200 women being forced to work at an apparel firm in Tamil Nadu.
The Tamil Nadu chief minister ordered immediate action and the women were rescued.
Asked about the impending decision on whether to open the lockdown at the end of the 21-day period, Soren said, "Opening of the lockdown is a big challenge. It needs to be assessed keeping in mind that social distancing and health services do not collapse."
He said the lockdown has to be opened like shifting the gears of a car.
"We are focusing on social security and the health sector. When the lockdown ends, our people stuck in various places where the effect of the coronavirus is high, like in Delhi, may return and if a coronavirus infected person comes in and goes to the villages, it can lead to spike in cases," he said.
The medical facilities that the state has are very limited and it is dependent on assistance from the Centre, he said.
"Till now we have demanded 1,500 ventilators but have got none. Similarly, there are just 8 testing machines, out of which only 4 are operational," Soren said, underlining the limited resources his state has in fighting the coronavirus crisis.
Till now, at least 13 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Jharkhand with one death.
Asked about the state having a very low number of cases, he said Jharkhand has its advantages as well as disadvantages and while it is among the most backward states, it has hilly areas and settlements are scattered helping in the implementation of social distancing.
"Ours is a state that connects with so many states like UP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, in such a scenario implementation of lockdown is very difficult. But we implemented the lockdown strongly," Soren said.
The chief minister said though states were not consulted when the lockdown was imposed there was no point looking back or bickering as the fight against the pandemic has to be fought in a coordinated manner.