Delhi is under a strict lockdown like the rest of India with economic activities at a complete halt. Rapid population growth and congestion mean that the city could potentially be hit hard by a communicable disease like COVID-19.
So far this doesn't apear to have been the case, although the city did face a migrant workers crisis after the announcement of the current lockdown.
Even though the total number of reported COVID-19 cases in Delhi hasn't hit the 2,000 mark, the lockdown is expected to have a lasting impact in terms of economy and structure of society.
In an interview with Sputnik, Delhi deputy chief Manish Sisodia of Aam Aadmi Party shares a glimpse into the government’s plans for dealing with the health crisis.
Sputnik: Has Delhi managed to remain under control with regard to the COVID-19 spread so far?
Manish Sisodia: Delhi seems to be under control so far as the cases are not showing spike at the moment. But at the same time, Delhi has a three-fold responsibility. It is a national capital, it has international airport and then it has its own population as well. So when the spread started, people coming from different parts of the world reached here first and were scanned here only before leaving for different parts of India.
Delhi has around 1,800 active cases at present and not all of them are local cases. Even the cases here are divided into three sections – one section is of people who were scanned at the airport, second those infected at the Markaz (Nizamuddin) and third and least in number are the local cases from localities in Delhi. Over 63 percent of all these cases are related to the Tablighi Jamaat event at Nizamuddin. Similarly, as capital city, several cases are also related to foreigners.
I would say that around 500-600 cases in Delhi are local. So if you are asking me whether the situation is under control, I would say as compared to Italy, France and the US, India is doing much better.
Sputnik: The central government has announced that industries will open on 20 April, do you agree with it?
Manish Sisodia: The Centre’s guidelines with regard to the lockdown are good. Since the situation is changing every day, we can’t immediately open everything. We are yet paving the way for easing the restrictions.
Sputnik: Tablighi Jamaat members are being blamed for the spread of the virus in Delhi. Their issue has been highlighted by every state. Does the government regret unintentionally targeting Muslims?
Manish Sisodia: This shouldn’t have happened. And all those people who are doing this are wrong. Such people already have hatred filled in their minds, which is why they are saying this. Otherwise, if what they are saying about Tablighi, they should also say about the Bharatiya Janata Party MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] who celebrated his birthday party by inviting so many people.
We've seen in the news that leaders of some political party in Karnataka broke the lockdown rules for the wedding of their kids. A woman who came from Bangalore to Delhi and went to Agra via train after running away from the quarantine centre; we don’t know about her religion but we know she was breaking the rules and spreading corona.
If any person, from any religion, any caste, is spreading corona then he/she should be seen in the context of spreading corona and not blaming their entire community or the place they belong to. If an MLA threw a party for his birthday, doesn’t mean you will shame all MLAs. If a woman ran away from a quarantine centre, then you cannot say the same about women of the whole nation. So it is foolish of whoever is doing it.
It is the hatred in their own hearts, for which they are using this incident as a hook. All the people who are thinking on those lines are actually full of hate. They are shame on the society.
Sputnik: The migration that took place has reduced the pressure of resources on Delhi. Does the government want migrants to return?
Manish Sisodia: Delhi is the national capital and it belongs to everyone. People from all parts of the country have right over Delhi. The same way we consider migrant labourers to be part of Delhi. People see their future and livelihood in Delhi that is why they come here. And we will try and maintain that character of Delhi. Let the lockdown end, then we will tell what schemes will be introduced.
Sputnik: The lockdown has reflected positive impact on the environment. The Yamuna river is not completely clean but cleaner than it used to be because the industrial effluents are not being discharged into the river. Is the government considering asking industries to fix their waste disposal systems?
Manish Sisodia: You are thinking about all these things. But all we are thinking right now is about how to stop the spread corona. You can think this from where you are sitting, but our responsibility at present is to have minimum damage from corona. And our focus is to efficiently implement the lockdown and that no one dies of hunger during this time.
Even now we are providing foods to around one million poor in different parts of Delhi. After all this, the issue of cleaning of Yamuna River will come, economy will come and rest of the things will come. As of today, I don’t have space to think about anything except these two things. And I think as a responsible government, saving people’s lives from corona and starvation are my priority.
After that, how we have to save Yamuna, what we have to tell the industry and what policy is to be adopted are subjective matters. First we need to save lives. Even if we keep some river of the country clean but thousands of people die, then who are we keeping the river clean for.
I don’t want to have New York-kind of situation here where people are dying in every house. That is not something I want, my priority is to have minimum damage. We will clean the Yamuna as well.
Sputnik: At present, the focus of all the hospitals is on corona. But there are other diseases like TB and cancer. It has become a huge problem for people suffering from them. What are the measures for them?
Manish Sisodia: This is a tough time for everyone. From livelihood to other diseases, businesses, economy, education of children, everything is under threat. We need to accept this harsh reality. We will have to compromise everywhere. But if there is a situation of do and die, then we are feeding people, treating them. There is a reason that the planned surgeries were put on hold, so that we can hold whatever we can.
Because with corona, when we have halted everything, it is important to keep the non-corona cases aside for a while. Govind Valabh Pant Hospital was earlier declared corona hospital, but then they have a certain expertise and because a section of Delhi depends upon it, it was declared non-COVID hospital later.
Sputnik: Migrant workers have journeyed to their homes on foot. At the same time, flights were being sent abroad to evacuate Indian citizens there. Doesn’t this reflect the state’s different treatment for the elite and labourers?
Manish Sisodia: I think this is a very small thinking. All facilities were available before the lockdown but when restrictions were imposed, they were for everyone in country, be that an owner of a company or the labourer in the same place. Everyone should follow it. Owner is bearing all the losses to implement the lockdown, labourers should also understand this.
If the government has placed a lockdown, labourers should follow it as well. There is anxiety among everyone. Nobody wants to sit at home. Nobody wants to be jobless. Even a creative person, artist, businessman or labourer doesn’t want to stay at home. Everyone has problem with sitting idly by but everyone has to remain inside.
You cannot say that the government is doing nothing. We are feeding 1,000,000 people in Delhi so that nobody dies of hunger. Ration has been distributed among 900,000 people in an extraordinary way. At present, 800,000-900,000 people in Delhi have received $65.36 (INR 5,000) each in their accounts from the government, so that they don’t die. Government has done all this. Saying that we haven’t done anything for them is not justified. It is a one-sided thought.
When lockdown was announced, trains, flights and buses were cancelled. But there were exceptions like when people reached Anand Vihar, buses were arranged.
Sputnik: Considering the poor economic situation, should the government start unemployment allowances?
Manish Sisodia: All these are your ideas. I can take the ideas. We note down these ideas and then find out solutions.
Sputnik: What is the strategy on reopening of the schools?
Manish Sisodia: The schools will not open until 3 May. Closer to that time we will decide whether to extend the holidays or not. Because a week after that, the summer break will be beginning. It all depends upon the situation of COVID at that time. Nobody was ready for this situation. We are taking decisions on day-to-day basis. Whether schools will open or not, I will be answer this better on 3 May itself but this might merge into summer vacation.
Sputnik: There is a lot of pressure on the state budget. Under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, to what extent will Delhi and other states benefit?
Manish Sisodia: We don’t get benefit of this. As Delhi government, we can’t borrow. Under the constitutional provisions, we are not allowed to borrow. We can only take loans from central government. We have requested them to take loan on behalf of Delhi.
Sputnik: What is the status of Goods and Services tax compensation fund? Until when does the state have it clear and for which month?
Manish Sisodia: The GST compensation amount will come. Centre has cleared until November.