How will Punjab manage harvesting amid social distancing and the lockdown?
In the fields, since most of the harvesting is done with machines, the problem is not acute. But packaging, loading, unloading and transporting wheat to mandis needs to be done in a staggered manner to ensure social distancing. All this is being taken care of by the district administration with the help of police.
Farmers will be given passes to go to mandis with their produce so that there is no overcrowding. We have also asked the Centre for incentives for farmers who delay bringing their grain to mandis. We have also increased the number of purchase centres and sheller yards to spread out the operations further.
This year, we were to start bank transfer of payments to farmers but we are not doing it. We do not want any confusion at this stage by changing any system. So we are amending the rules to continue with payments through arhtiyas [commission agents]. We will pay them within 48 hours of purchase and they, in turn, will be required to pay the farmers within 48 hours.
How are you dealing with Covid-19 hotspots in the state?
We are doing aggressive testing in these areas. While as of now we have no reason to believe there is community outbreak anywhere, we are not taking any chances.
We are doing community testing for severe acute respiratory infection in the hotspots. The hotspots have so far been seen in SBS Nagar, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Pathankot, Mansa and two areas of SAS Nagar. Areas with more than two confirmed cases are being declared hotspots.
These areas have been put under containment. Tracing of contacts of all cases has been done and all high-risk contacts have been tested. Mobile vans have been used so far for sample collection to restrict movement of suspected cases.
We are now procuring rapid test kits by which testing will be increased in areas from where positive cases have been reported. We have ordered 10 lakh such kits from ICMR, and the first batch will arrive soon. We have also raised inquiry for 10,000 kits in the open market. We aim to start rapid testing from April 13. We intend to use these kits also for testing of ILI (influenza-like illness) cases in hospitals as well as in villages at the earliest to identify new clusters.
Punjab did not witness any mass outflow of migrant workers when the lockdown began. Why?
I am happy to say we managed to check the movement of migrant workers, of whom Punjab has about 7.5 lakh. We took several measures even before the borders were sealed to ensure they did not leave Punjab.
We made it unnecessary for them to leave because, from their perspective, they would have left only if they had no food or shelter here for 21 days of the lockdown. After that, they would have wanted to come back in any case to work in the fields for the harvesting.
We ensured, with the help of industry, NGOs and religious organisations, they were taken care of. Camps were built. Religious organisations provided shelters and factory premises were opened up. In fact, industries, which are housing the migrant workers with strict Covid-19 safety protocols, were advised to start some operations.
As a result, many of these migrants are even getting wages. Besides, food packets are being distributed to them daily by police and other relief teams in the field.
Many NRIs recently returned to Punjab. What was done to check their travel history and trace contacts?
Yes, this has been a major challenge for more than a month now. We screened more than 95,000 such passengers at Mohali and Amritsar airports, as well as at the Wagah and Kartarpur Sahib land ports.
We had to subsequently, on central government’s directions, trace and quarantine these passengers. Passengers from certain high-risk countries were put in government quarantine.
Subsequently, the Centre sent us a list of 55,000 people who arrived in Delhi before proceeding to Punjab, and were quarantined. While in most cases, contact tracing has been completed, we believe some passengers are still hiding their travel and contact history.
We are appealing to them and are also searching for them aggressively. Police and health department teams are on the job, and we are also getting a lot of cooperation from people in towns and villages where these NRIs went. We’re dealing with this problem strictly and I have already announced that we shall impound the passports of those who hide their travel history
What are your demands on GST arrears?
\We have Rs 6,752 crore in GST arrears pending with the Centre. We have asked the finance minister and the prime minister to release this on urgent basis. We are in critical need of funds to tide over the Covid-19 crisis. By April end, our estimated losses would be to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore. We are not getting any revenue at present on account of excise, VAT on petroleum products and road tax due to the curfew.
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4 Comments on this Story
H K Doshi284 days ago
Punjab May turns to Corona Bomb in near future, as Government is not testing extensively.
Ramamohanarao Kodali284 days ago
Testing...Moretesting . Testing...Lock down... Mass chemoprophylaxis with Chloroquine. There are no other alternatives
H K Doshi284 days ago
Punjab is carrying quite lesser test and tries to show less infections. No sooner testing process gear up there will be number of silent Corona positive in the State. Punjab needs to increase test and should identify all silent career.