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Saturday Interview | ‘Time to put aside politics’

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar is known to speak his mind and hasn’t shied away from taking the elected government head on.

Soma Mookherjee | Kolkata |

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar is known to speak his mind and hasn’t shied away from taking the elected government head on. He spoke to Soma Mookherjee on the Centre’s and state’s efforts to stave off the Covid-19 challenge. Dhankhar, however, feels that testing needs to be stepped up in the state.

Q. As the Constitutional Head do you feel the state government has taken fool-proof measures to combat Covid-19?

A. Firstly I need to indicate that after my sustained persuasive efforts there has been for the first time during this crisis period over two hour briefing by Chief Secretary on April 8. The Chief Minister is yet to so engage with me. This is a constitutional prescription which cannot be overlooked.

I am sure she would take to the constitutional course of briefing without further let up. In combating and containing COVID-19 the whole country is unitedly engaged with the Prime Minister imparting visionary leadership. All including WB government are in action in concert with the Central Government.

The timely initiatives of PM Modi have been globally applauded. The response to his call by the people has been enormously positive. The positive results thereof are also being seen. This is the time for all to disable their political antenna. Covid-19 is a global challenge. Several developed countries are heavily stressed with massive mortality.

However, in our vast country, the Prime Minister has offered visionary leadership. The nation has responded unitedly. The other preparations of the Government are also farsighted and effective. Prime Minister’s appeals have evoked seamless, positive response by the people. There is a need to be watchful that in such testing times, there is no room for public relations or usual political theatrics.

It would have been wholesome and in the interest of the state and its people if CM had participated in the video conference of PM. Attending the subsequent meeting of floor leaders by the TMC is (a step) in the right direction. There is a need to be subject to the Unified Command of the PM. There is concern that our Health Warriors are stressed and in fear. So is the media. This worrisome situation needs to be neutralized.

Q. The state government has set up dedicated hospitals for treating Covid-19 patients not only in Kolkata but also in different districts.Most of the Trinamul MPs have contributed from their MPLAD Funds to set up more isolation wards or quarantine centres in their respective constituencies. Do you think the Centre’s move to freeze MPLAD Funds for two years may impede parliamentarians’ efforts to help combat Covid-19?

A. The Centre’s move is well thought out and impacts all the MPs. The step has been taken at the beginning of the year. That being so, there should be no such issues. The amount would surely go towards boosting endeavours in fighting Covid-19.

A pay cut of MPs and Ministers as also voluntary cuts by President, Vice President and Governors has sent the right signal. I have appealed to MLAs and Ministers in the state to act similarly. This would boost the morale of the people.

Q. Like some states, we too have the problem of migrant labourers coming from other states, some of them even tested positive for Covid-19.Do you think the proactive steps taken by the state government are adequate to deal with the situation?

A. This is an ongoing challenge, and all are geared in the right direction.

Q. You have contributed to both the PM CARES Fund and to the Chief Minister’s Emergency Relief Fund to combat Covid-19. You have also requested well-meaning persons from and outside West Bengal to contribute generously to help combat Covid-19. How are the people assisting the Government to combat COVID-19?

A. From my limited funds, I have made available Rs 10 lakh to the State Fund and Rs 5 lakh to PM Cares Fund. Apart from that, I have decided to forego 30 per cent of my salary for one year to boost endeavours to combat COVID-19.

I have appealed to MLAs and Ministers in West Bengal to take 30 per cent pay cut for a year to boost the government’s Covid-19 efforts, and this would inspire others to contribute to the cause.

Q. As per WHO’s directives,more and more testing is required to combat Covid-19. In India, the number of tests is quite low. Do you think we should start conducting more random testing?

A. Supreme Court has recently directed to make both public and private Covid-19 tests free. We need to have extensive tests to find out and gauge the seriousness of the problem. The number of testing in the state needs to look up as presently it is at a worrisome low level.

There has to be optimum utilization of test kits. Kits have not been used in some places like Malda. I gather that there are places where more than 1,000 kits are available. Either there is no test or in insignificant numbers. Extensive testing is bound to be more productive. The detection and consequent containment are possible only if extensive tests take place.

Q. Would you request the Centre to release more funds to the state government for setting up more testing centres and laboratories?

A. Testing centres and Laboratories have been increased since the onslaught of Covid-19. There is no input to me for enhancing this. I would for sure have taken steps to approach the Centre for more funds to the state once the state government brings the issue for my consideration.

Q.  Would you request the Centre to send adequate PPEs and other necessary equipment to our state, so that doctors and other healthcare workers who are in the frontline battling Covid-19 are well equipped?

A. Undoubtedly we all need to take care of this aspect of our Health Warriors as they are exposing themselves for a great societal cause. Quality PPE is non-negotiable. I gather from my interaction with the Chief Secretary that all effective mechanisms are in place. The state has thus far made no input to me. I can move forward only after being updated by the state.

Q. Do you think the Indian Red Cross Society should be roped in by the state government? Does the Red Cross have enough infrastructure to help combat the pandemic?

A. WB State Red Cross is doing an excellent job under the inspirational leadership of its newly appointed Chairman Nurul Haq. Rs 5 lakh has been made available by me to the State Red Cross.

Q. Do you advocate that lockdown after April 14 be extended or at least relaxed phase-wise?

A. You would notice that the Prime Minister is continually engaged with the political and executive leadership of the country to evolve a consensual approach. The issue is to be addressed by the authorities involved in the same. I am sure all are earnestly involved in containing and combating Coronavirus and decisions in this behalf will be taken as per expedient situation by those concerned.

Q. From the present situation, it is evident that KMC and HMC polls have taken a back seat. Will you advise the state government to appoint an administrator in KMC as the term will end in May?

A. The issue will receive my attention and consideration once the same is brought to my notice. Part IX of the Constitution mandates these elections. Under Article 243 U of the Constitution, election to constitute a Municipality shall be completed before the expiry of its duration.

Q. You were apprehending law and order disruption during civic polls. Will you advocate for deployment of central forces?

A. I am sure after my two interactions with the State Election Commissioner; he is wholly in the know of his authority and obligations. I had impressed on him that fair and free elections are the essence of democracy and cannot be allowed to be compromised under any situation.

I had called upon him to be in a state of preparedness, keeping in view that such elections in 2013 and 2018 were marred by violence and tainted the reputation of the state.