Being one of the select few states to have been able to announce itself “Corona-free”, Tripura Chief minister Biplab Deb is a relieved man. With other Northeast CM’s like Meghalaya’s Conrad Sangma advocating for “relaxation” of the lockdown in the green zone during the 4th conference with the Prime Minister, Deb felt at ease.
A month back though he was a different persona, when the first case reached the Northeast. In this exclusive interview to IANS’s Anindya Banerjee, Deb holds the Tablighi Jamaat squarely responsible for aggravating the COVID-19 scenario in his part of the country, calling it an “unpardonable” act. He promises that the Islamic sect members who spread the virus will have to face the brunt of law. Here’s the full interview:
Q: Tripura is one of the first few states to be completely ‘Corona-free’. How was it achieved?
A: People of Tripura have been responding to PM Modi’s call in letter and spirit. We have implemented suggestions given by the Center and honestly adhered to the central government’s guidelines.
Taking cue from the initiatives taken by the central government, we introduced thermal scanners for temperature measurements at various entry points to our state, including the airport, rail station, state, and as well as international check posts with Bangladesh. We took this step as early as in the month of January. We also took early preventive measures and announced lockdown well before the other states. Our government had declared lockdown on March 23 along with curfew.
We had started screening in airports and integrated check posts way back on January 29. We are the first state in the country to have imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC on March 16. The goal behind this advance step was to ensure social distancing for preventing transmission of the novel coronavirus and definitely, the plan worked to a great extent.
We are fortunate that only two positive cases have been reported and both the patients have already recovered making the state coronavirus-free. We are continuing with the lockdown since the country-wide lockdown is in force as it has been most effective in combating COVID-19 so far.
Q: There are states like Maharashtra that have seen unprecedented rise in cases of COVID-19, with tally crossing 8,000. As a Chief Minister of a state that has managed to wipe off the virus from his own state, what advice would you like to give to states like Maharashtra or Delhi?
A: My only advice to one and all is to honestly follow the advice of our Prime Minister. In this hour of crises, he has been tirelessly working to provide relief to the people of India. He has received praises from all over the owrld for his decisions and role in this crisis management exercise. Leaders of most developed nations are praising our Prime Minister and we should be proud of it. I can only say that at this time of crisis we should forget all our differences and get united as a nation to fight against the coronavirus which is a global pandemic.
Q: How serious has been the role of Tablighi Jamaat in spreading the coronavirus in the Northeast?
A: No one is allowed to act against the law of land. Definitely, the act of Tablighi Jamaat has worsened the situation. Otherwise we would have achieved much much more till the time. India under the able leadership of Prime Minister Modi has left a great imprint on the world canvass in its fight against the coronavirus.
As far as the Northeast is concerned, this region had shown better fight against the disease given its ‘natural advantages’ of less accessibility, less density of population, and stricter adherence to the lockdown rules. This is a fact that a number of cases, which came up in these states were related to the Tablighi Jamaat episode and their contacts. This is an unpardonable act. Law of land will take action against such violators.
Q: Last time, all Chief Ministers wanted the lockdown to extend. Is Tripura for a phased withdrawal of lockdown?
A: I have already said that we are strictly following the guidelines given by our Prime Minister. PM Modi is our guiding force. He guides us with the direction and we try our best to follow the orders and implement them to the best of our ability. He not only guided us in his national address through media or video conferences but also directly took inputs from me — Chief Minister of one of the smallest states of India, and gave his personal advice. This puts more responsibility on your shoulder and motivates one to perform better every time.
We have already given due relaxation as per the guidelines given by the Ministry of Home Affairs. This is applicable in the entire state barring two containment zones where coronavirus positive cases stayed.
Q: States like Kerala, Punjab have been demanding liquor sales to resume in view of revenue shortfall. Will Tripura ask for the same?
A: We are following MHA directives which is in the best interest of our state. We are opening permitted shops selling non-essential goods and services as per guidelines of MHA. We have been focusing on increasing our revenue by emphasizing more on our primary sector like — horticulture, floriculture, pisciculture, dairy, poultry, ARD, agri-allied industries etc.
We are hopeful very soon with the opening up of the muti-model connectivity including water, land and rail through neighbouring Bangladesh, our economy will get a boast and we shall be able to fulfill our Prime Minister’s dream of ‘Act East’ by becoming India’s gateway to southeast Asia.
Q: A survey by IANS-CVoter suggests 93 per cent Indians expressed their trust in PM Modi in tackling the COVID outbreak. Your thoughts on that.
A: PM Modi is a great leader. Even superpowers of the world have accepted this fact. Approval ratings for Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the global coronavirus pandemic are the highest. The World Health Organization (WHO) has whole heartedly welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative against the Coronavirus challenge. WHO has praised the package announced by the PM, including free food rations for disadvantaged people, cash transfers to poor women and free cooking gas for poor households for the next 3 months to fight the coronavirus pandemic. They have also praised India’s economic stimulus plan. Under his leadership, India fares better in tackling the Corona crisis than any other country in the world.
Corona affected people and corona related deaths are significantly lower in India as compared to other parts of the world. In his latest Mann ki Baat, PM has told the country that India’s war against coronavirus is people-driven.
Every Indian is a soldier in this fight. Our hardworking farmers ensure no one is hungry. These words are very valuable. They invoke a sense of security, safety and confidence. Entire country is standing behind the PM. Every Indian believes him. He has earned this goodwill. He is the leader of every Indian.
(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at Anindya.firstname.lastname@example.org)