'Let us all keep calm and face this medical emergency unitedly.'
'Our top priority is to fight the pandemic and win this war.'
"We have already been implementing the Rs 2-3 per kg rice and wheat package for poor families in the state," Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Ajit Anantrao Pawar tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com in an exclusive interview.
"While the covid-19 crisis was felt in the state for the last eight days and now that it has assumed pandemic proportions, the state government has been contemplating modalities to improve upon and better financial schemes already in force," adds Pawar.
More financial assistance will be provided in the days to come, Pawar promises, but the government will have to ensure that it reaches the targeted sections.
"We have to figure out the deserving beneficiaries. We have a huge swathe of labourers in the state and the Maharashtra government has already told factory and mill owners to pay wages to their employees even if they don't work at these factories. We are sincerely contemplating what more can be done," says Pawar.
Talking about the fate of construction workers and daily wage earners facing imminent unemployment due to the 21-day lockdown, Pawar says, "We have several lakh workers in the state employed in the construction sector. Our information is that a lot of these workers (before the outbreak) have left in search of employment to states like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Delhi."
"Whatever financial programme we implement we have to ensure that it reaches the most deserving sections of the affected people suffering financial hardships because of this crisis," adds the deputy chief minister.
"We have already released five per cent or Rs 475 crore out of the Rs 9,500 crore total budgetary allocation as emergency relief package for all the districts in the state from the district planning committee scheme to fight the covid-19 pandemic," Pawar points out.
"These funds have already been released and will be spent to fight the pandemic."
Apart from this, the state government has made provisions to issue rice and wheat to the poor for two months at Rs 2-3 per kg, he informs Rediff.com readers.
"The food and civil supplies ministry has already issued instructions to this effect for ensuring that essential goods and services reach the needy without any disruption. Those belonging to the BPL sections will get this benefit. The Union government has also made additional provisions for the supply of these essentials for the poor."
Pawar says the state cabinet meets at 10.30 am every day to take appropriate decisions to address and alleviate the problems of the poor in the state under duress because of the current situation.
Outlining the emergency measures undertaken by the state government, Pawar says the Maharashtra administration has enlisted private hospitals along with local government-run hospitals to admit and treat covid-19 patients.
"The number of diagnostic laboratories that undertook covid-19 testing were increased so that more people can go for these tests. Facilities were arranged to quarantine patients who needed isolation as well as admission into hospitals for treatment," the deputy chief minister says.
"As part of this government I plead to the people of Maharashtra to voluntarily follow the curfew rules and regulations and help the state government and nation win against this medical emergency."
When asked if the state government was planning any aid to ease the financial burden on the state's farmers, Pawar said, "We are already implementing the process of waiving off farmers's loans. We have provided for Rs 15,000 crore out of the total Rs 22,000 crore needed."
"The state government is fighting spiritedly on all the fronts as a unit and the welfare of the people of the state shall remain our priority going ahead."
Pawar says it is too early to come to a conclusion about the economic loss the state and Mumbai will suffer because of the lockdown.
"It became a pandemic about a week ago and now that we are locked down for 21 days more, the wheels of the economy will come to a grinding halt. We have already lost several thousand crores in the stock market meltdown," Pawar says, "but we can't get bogged down by monetary losses."
"The immediate priority is to contain the spread of covid-19 and save every possible life because every life matters."
"Instead of financial losses, let's talk about positives like this couple from Pune who was successfully treated for coronavirus and were discharged yesterday (March 24) from the hospital."
"This is the time to bring out the positives before the people and boost their morale. Let us all keep calm and face this medical emergency unitedly."
"Our top priority is to fight the pandemic and win this war."