Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. (File Photo: IANS). Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, June 5 : Manohar Lal Khattar is an RSS hand who was handpicked by Prime Minister Modi to lead the first ever BJP government in the state of Haryana after the party swept to power in 2014.

He is into his second term as Chief Minister and represents the Karnal Assembly constituency. Although he retained power in 2019 through an alliance with Dushyant Chautala of the Jannayak Janta Party after a tough fight with Congress' Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Khattar, Haryana's first Punjabi CM, has been in the forefront of the Covid fight in the state which shares borders with Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

In an extensive conversation with IANS, Khattar said that if the battle against Covid-19 goes on for long, harsh decisions may have to be taken.

He said, "We are handling the arrangement as a trustee of the public. Bitter medicine is necessary to cure the disease, and the sufferings caused by bitter medicine has to be endured. So the decision to stop the cross-border movement was taken by the government. The decision to closely monitor the border with Delhi was necessary to mitigate the disaster." Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Despite being close to Delhi, Haryana has succeeded in curbing Covid-19 to some extent as compared to the other states. For this you used a digital platform... how was all this possible? A: The battle against the Covid-19 pandemic is long drawn. It has affected not only Haryana, but the entire country and the world. The fear of the infection spreading remains at all levels. That is why we are prepared for it at every level.

You may recall that on March 22, the Prime Minister had called for a 'Janata Curfew'. We also appealed to the people of the state to stay put in their homes and make the Janata Curfew a success. The only mantra, which was given to us by the Prime Minister, to win this battle was social distancing. We also gave the people of the state a 'Triple S' mantra -- Stay at Home, Social Distancing, Sanitise Yourself.

Amid the growing threat of Covid-19, the Prime Minister also said, "Jaan hai toh Jahan hai" (secure life and the world is secured). Later, his instruction was that we must secure both life and livelihood. His instruction was to take care of life by following the distance of two yards wherever you may be. In this way, we followed the guidelines set by the Prime Minister and the Central government at every step.

During the Covid-19 outbreak, we communicated with the public at all levels and there could have been no means of better communication other than the digital medium during the lockdown period. We have reposed our faith in technology for the last five years. We are happy to have used technology, not only for communication services, but also for fighting the coronavirus.

In my tenure till now, our aim has been to use technology to serve the public. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, technology was used for services, connected to IT. Online services such as e-Disha Kendra, Saral Centre, Antyodaya Kendra, Common Service Centres opened in the villages benefited the people. In the corona era, we used technology to the hilt.

We have been able to put across the message to the public that during this pandemic and even after, lifestyles will have to change, the use of technology will have to increase.

Along with creating a helpline, to bring all the services under one roof and provide the facilities to meet the needs of the public, a Jan Sahayak app was developed through which all services were provided on a single platform. Haryana has fought the battle of coronavirus better than Delhi or any other state in the country, and we continue the fight.

Q: During the pandemic, constant monitoring was done by your office to maintain the supply of essential goods. For this a large number of volunteers were engaged... how was this possible? A: The team has contributed a lot in the fight against the pandemic. Working as a team, Haryana's condition today is better than the neighbouring states of Delhi,
Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Haryana is being discussed across the country. When Covid-19 cases started pouring in from abroad, the state government kept a strict vigil on 13,000 people who came from overseas.

As far as volunteers during the lockdown are concerned, we issued helpline numbers at the state and district levels to help the needy.

We interacted with the people of the state with the motto that this fight concerns every person in the country. In this sequence, we urged the people that if they face any problem regarding Covid-19, they should contact us on the helpline numbers 1075 or 1100 where every kind of relief will be provided by the government.

At the same time, as the Chief Minister of the state, while interacting directly with the people, I urged them to be volunteers in the fight against the pandemic and register themselves as Covid warriors.

We created a website where people requested to be registered as volunteers. As a result, a large number of people enrolled themselves as Covid warriors on different fronts. This included professionals such as doctors, nurses, paramedics and services like home delivery, and norms like social-distancing, public communication, district management, etc.

Government employees, voluntary organisations and a large number of volunteers were included during the lockdown to provide essential goods to the public. In Haryana, every child, citizens, young and old alike, farmers, labourers -- all are fighting the common battle and every citizen is a volunteer in the fight.

Q: Farm labourers have migrated in large numbers to their native places from Haryana during the harvesting season. How are you dealing with this problem? A: Haryana is the primary state of agriculture and industry. In our country, along with agriculture, lakhs of workers are engaged in the industry who come from other states. I have repeatedly said that these workers make an important contribution to the development of Haryana, whether they are engaged in agriculture or in industry. We never tied our province to the borders, but every worker is our brother.

A similar situation occurred this time during the pandemic. When the lockdown was announced, there was time for harvesting and storage of rabi crops across the country and also in Haryana. The farmer works hard round the year and when it was time to bring his crop home, the lockdown occurred, endangering the farmer's livelihood and produce.

Due to the pandemic, lakhs of labourers who came from other states started talking of returning to their homes. Fuelled by rumours that they might die of hunger rather than the pandemic, the migrant labourers felt like going home to save their life.

Q: How did you handle the situation? The challenge before the government was to ensure that the lockdown was followed properly to prevent the spread of the corona infection. The challenge was dual. On the one hand, we asked the landowners and the farmers to work jointly with the local labourers engaged in harvesting and the rest of the farming work because there is no shame in doing one's work.

On the other hand, we assured all the migrant labourers who had come from outside to earn their livelihood in our state that they are safe in Haryana. The government is with them in this hour of disaster. We will go to whatever extent we can to help them out. The government has made adequate arrangements for migrant labourers.

Each district collector was given an amount of Rs 1 crore. Arrangements were made to provide food and necessary facilities to the workers. Care was taken for their health and safety. We also built a large number of relief camps for the migrant workers.

During the last three months, more than 600 shelter homes were run for the labourers.

We also started a portal for migrant labourers, the poor and the needy, where they got registered and the government provided all possible help.

Just as we assured the farmers that they would buy each grain of their crop, in the same vein we told the workers that we would arrange to send each one of them back, and this arrangement would be free.

As long as they stay here, arrangements will be made for their food and shelter, they are like brothers and will not face any discrimination.

At many places, the migrant workers said that while they were in relief camps, they wanted to contribute to the farming work in the neighbouring villages.

The situation today is that the storage of wheat, mustard and other crops has been completed in the state. Industries have also opened up. All the labourers who came from outside the state and had registered themselves on our portal are being sent back home by trains and buses.

Many workers have expressed their desire to come back to Haryana for work. We are glad that no untoward incident of police torture has occurred here.

Q: A control room was set up in the state to listen to the grievances of the people. How effective was it? A: Our priority was to save the life of every person. This required proper compliance of the lockdown for which basic services were restored along with emergency services to get the people what they needed most.

Work was done at different levels which included attending to thousands of calls we received on the helplines daily. Efforts were made by our staff to provide whatever was needed by the people in distress.

Also, through the Jan Sahayak app, an effort was made to ensure that all need-based services were provided on a single platform.

Q: What are your plans for dealing with Covid-19 in Haryana? A: From the very beginning, we tried to implement in an effective way the instructions we received from the Prime Minister and from the Ministry of Home Affairs. At different stages of lockdown, we paid attention to the expansion of health facilities, ensuring that the lockdown was followed properly.

We saw to it that the common man faced least difficulty and whenever there was relaxation, we kept moving the wheel. Today our situation is good. In Haryana, the testing rate is also good, the spread of the infection is low, the number of patients recovering is high and the death rate is also very low. Lockdown 5.0 lasts till June 30.

We follow the guidelines issued by the Centre and take precautions wherever needed. We hope Haryana will soon come out of this pandemic.

Q: Could it be assumed that the bad phase of Covid-19 in Haryana is over and do you see any danger in the future? A: As soon as the news of the corona pandemic surfaced, we strengthened our system, improved health facilities, set up a Covid-dedicated hospitals and increased the rate of investigation. We created awareness among people through various channels and followed the lockdown properly. We got good results for all this. The corona infection rate is lower in Haryana than the other states. We tried our best to downward the trend.

A large number of pilgrims from Nanded were found positive, some in Haryana were also found positive. The number of corona positive people working and visiting Delhi was found to be high. In districts of Haryana such as Gurugram, Jhajjar, Sonipat and Faridabad, there was an increase in the numbers because they had borders with other states.

As said in the beginning, if the battle of Corona goes on for long, harsh decisions will have to be taken. We are handling the arrangement as a trustee for the public. Bitter medicine is necessary to cure the disease, the suffering caused by bitter medicine will have to be endured as the government has decided to stop cross-border movement.

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