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Former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi spoke exclusively to The Sentinel

Former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi spoke exclusively to The Sentinelassam.com on a wide range of issues

Tarun Gogoi

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  10 May 2020 4:40 AM GMT


Former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi spoke exclusively to The Sentinelassam.com on a wide range of issues including his mantra to revive the economy post COVID-19 and the migrants issue. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

SA: What are your thoughts, your views on the entire handling of the Coronavirus crisis and imposition of lockdown.

Tarun Gogoi: I am not quite satisfied with the handling of the situation. The whole world is passing through one of the most difficult times because of Coronavirus, India and Assam also. Lockdown definitely is necessary but the way lockdown was imposed abruptly in India without proper planning and proper policy have cost the millions of our poor and marginalize sections of our people particularly daily wage earners, rickshaw pullers, small traders and businessmen, small and medium enterprises. Yes, to save lives is important but at the same time livelihoods are important too. Without livelihood we cannot save the lives of our people. We have been emphasising from the very beginning but Prime Minister of India, Shri Modi, he gave first priority to the lives that is why his slogan was Jaan hai to Jahan hai. Subsequently of course he realised so he changed his slogan to Jaan bhi aur Jahan bhi. Today because of the wrong handling, the problem of livelihood is going to be a big challenge. Yes, now there has been relaxations. It's a good thing but I feel more relaxations is necessary. Because there are countries like South Korea, Sweden, in Sweden they don't use any lockdown. Sweden is the only country in the world where they have not imposed any lockdown. Inspite of that their number of casualties is much less.

Some restrictions must be there about distancing, washing hands and testing. Testing must be more and more. We have to live with Corona just like in Assam we have to live with floods.

We are living with tuberculosis despite there being medicines for it. Even for cancer, inspite of all the treatments, people die. Scientists must concentrate to develop a vaccine. But we must see that livelihoods are not lost. WE cannot let our enterprises close.

SA: If your government was in power how would you have handled the situation?

Tarun Gogoi: I too would have imposed lockdown, but I would have done it gradually. We would have first prepared how gradually people adjust to it. Social distancing is main. It is easy to maintain social distance in the agriculture sector, be it in the fields or in the tea gardens but if you are in the house then often 3-4 people live together. Therefore, they should not have shut agriculture sector. Even for shops they should asked them to keep space between two shops and allowed them to open, this is what they are doing now. There is point shutting shops completely. We have seen our police working day and night, they are out there round the clock. How many positive cases have we heard cases from them?

The state government alone cannot bear the losses incurred. Centre has to assist. If they had planned the lockdown, if they would have given time to the migrant labours then all these labours would have returned at their own cost. They should have done it with proper planning because Coronavirus is not like an earthquake that would suddenly strike. Initially only about 500 were infected, the number has now gone up to over 45,000.

SA: Does the Congress or you as one of the senior leaders have a revival plan in place.

Tarun Gogoi: Definitely yes. Revival plan will take time. We have to keep in mind that we need an immediate plan, one for the short term and another for the long term. People have lost their jobs, many have lost their lives. Now we will have to see how these people who have lost their lives are able to earn their livelihood, particularly those in the small and medium enterprises, weavers, cottage industry, milk producers, small traders, we will have to provide some assistance to them, even to our agriculturists. Our farmers are not getting the right remunerative prices. Some loan waivers for them is also needed. They need immediate relief so that they do not fall further.

Now government has imposed Rs 5 on per litre of petrol and diesel. This will ultimately affect the farmers and the common man. The farmer depends on diesel for irrigation and agriculture and transporting their produce. Prices of commodities will go up and the common man will have to bear the burden. We want the government to roll back the hike.

They have decided not to release the MP, MLA funds now. These funds are used to build assets and create livelihoods. At this time we should pump more money, ensure livelihoods so that the purchasing power of the people increases. This is crucial for industry's survival. Our whole idea is that livelihood needs to be created so that the purchasing power does not fall further.

SA: Solutions from your side on how to turnaround the economy, ensure that there is more money in the hands of the people.

Tarun Gogoi: You have to have a plan, you have to discuss with your officials. There are a lot of examples in the past. During our time also it was just like a lockout. During insurgency people never used to go out after dark, business had stopped too, it was not a lockdown, people didn't go out because of fear. There was a flight of capital to the other states. That was the situation before I came to power. Economy was in bad shape. We took a loan from the Asian Development Bank. So sometimes you might have to take more loan also. But the loan has to be so that you can pump money into the hands of the common man.

SA: Government is now giving financial aid to migrant workers and giving cash to students stranded outside the state. What is your opinion.

Tarun Gogoi: That has to be given. I also want. All poorer section people should get Rs 7500 each. That is the demand of the Congress party. So that they can spend on food. Otherwise where from will they get money. That I am in favour of. But you have to see that it goes to only to those who deserve it. It should go to the genuine people because there are a lot of allegations of corruption. Mere dole is not enough. There has to be a plan. We must create asset also. The money provided is be spent in a manner that assets are created and in the long run the state is able to earn more taxes, more revenue.

SA: You have been expressing your concerns about the migrant workers. How exactly do you think the issue can be handled or should be handled.

Tarun Gogoi: There would not have been such a large number (of migrant labours). Because of the wrong handling, wrong implementation of lockdown. Otherwise many would have come on their own. Many lost their jobs because of the closer of industries in those states. That's the reason why this problem has come. This problem definitely is a serious problem, but we have no other alternative. These are my own people my own brothers and sisters. If my brothers and sisters are in difficulty, we definitely have to help them. So that is the reason why I am telling that if necessary we have to borrow more money, we will have to ask for funds from Government of India, take money from PM's Care Fund also. We will need substantial assistance. Our state should also ask for the special category status. This should be restored. Or there should be some incentive. There has to be a plan for small and medium enterprises. There should be a comprehensive plan by the Government of Assam. But till today I have not seen any such scheme being prepared. First prepare the plan and then see how much resources can be provided and how much resources is required from the Centre or how much needs to be borrowed and which are the sources from where to borrow.

SA: How much is the ruling party really talking with the Opposition.

Tarun Gogoi: Meeting did take place. But we do not know how many of our solutions and suggestions have been accepted. After that they stopped talking to us. It is not that in one go you can solve the problem. We also want to know, how many of our suggestions they have accepted and how are they going to implement those. Mere acceptation is not enough. After acceptation there has to be a roadmap for implementation. They have held discussions with journalists, prominent personalities, opposition parties, scientists, economists and industry leaders. We do not know how many suggestions they have accepted. They have set up committees. These committees need to have fixed timelines to submit their reports. Till now I have not seen the government having a roadmap or a clear cut vision.

SA: What are the lessons that the current COVID-19 crisis has taught. What are those things that really need to be fixed, so that in future in case there is another situation like this, we are not caught unaware.

Tarun Gogoi: Definitely we have to be prepared for the worst. We have to focus on the health sector and livelihoods of small traders, small and medium enterprises, our tea and coal industry, handicrafts and tourism. Now we have to see how these sectors can pick up. Dangers are there, we have to take risk. If we don't take risk then the cost will be much more. I do feel that there should be much more relaxation. For example, the tea industry, why allow only 50 per cent of the workers? Tea is a large industry, employing a large number of people. Transport and other such sectors, we need more relaxation. Yes, risks are there, health is important. We have to fight COVID-19 together. But we cannot forget about the other diseases. Fatalities from other diseases is also equally important. Do not neglect other patients at the cost of saving the coronavirus infected one.

SA: Would you be reaching out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the Assam government in the interest of the people of your state.

TG: Definitely. I won't mind, but they have to give importance. If they don't then there is no point. Otherwise I would be very happy to reach out. I look forward to. They should listen to our voices. Not just our voices, they should listen to the voices of the common man, small traders.

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