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Not enough resources to support people if lockdown continues

Admitting that the Assam government does not have enough financial resources to support the poor if the lockdown continues beyond March 31, Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Tuesday said some drastic steps may have to be taken in April.

Entire Assam has been placed under a lockdown from 6 pm on Tuesday till midnight of March 31 to combat the impact of novel coronavirus in the state.

The senior minister asked people to be mentally prepared for any situation as the state is heading towards an uncertain phase.

“There are lots of problems in the current situation. Many of the ruling and opposition members have expressed apprehensions about tea garden workers, daily wage earners or people engaged in the tourism sector. We have never seen such a crisis in our lives. I do not have a quick fix answer now,” Sarma said.

Taking part in a special discussion on the coronavirus situation in Assam Assembly, he said all allocations under different heads have already been exhausted as the financial year is nearing its end on March 31.

“In the new fiscal, usually the month of April is dry because new bills are raised, work tenders are issued. So, the treasury takes some time in releasing money. If we need to extend the lockdown beyond March 31, I do not know how to handle the situation,” he said.

Sarma said the government needs to take some drastic steps to address the economic hardship of people. If anything happens, it will be in April,” said Sarma.

He said around 40 lakh active bank accounts, including those from Ujjwala scheme, tea gardens and construction workers, where cash can be transferred to mitigate the crisis.

“Even if we transfer Rs 1,000 to each account, we will require Rs 400 crore. Your (opposition) concern is genuine, but we do not have that much money in April. Our target is the entire population and the government is considering various innovative techniques,” said Sarma who is also the health and family welfare minister.

The situation could be aggravated saying as, Sarma said, the deadly Japanese Encephalitis hits the state around April every year, followed by several waves of flood from May-June onwards.

“Assam will probably have the most unfortunate and crisis-filled year in 2020. The next two months are going to be very challenging for the Health Department. If science cannot find a solution, I do not know if our Budget (for 2020 -21) will remain like this. If the lockdown prolongs, we may not even be able to release MLA funds,” he added.

Sarma said with full lockdown, tax collection in the state and country will take a severe hit, which in turn will impact developmental works.

He informed the House that the healthcare system in the state is not robust enough to handle an overwhelming situation arising out of possible outbreak of the COVID-19.

“Today, the lives of doctors, nurses and medical staff are more important than us. We are doing everything possible to protect them. We do not make masks here, so that is a concern. Excise department informed us having about enough spirit, so we are making sanitisers here.

“The most important is the PPE (personal protective equipment). Unless we have that kit, our doctors cannot treat patients. We have somehow managed to procure 2,000 PPE kits and 500 are coming everyday. Once we have one lakh PPE kits, we will be comfortable,” Sarma said.

The state currently has 155 beds in ICU with ventilator facilities dedicated for coronavirus patients and efforts are on to augment this with 100 more beds, but all major manufacturing units across the world are shut now, he added.

He said the government is trying to create 20,000 isolation beds to treat only COVID-19 patients.

Appealing to people to fully abide by government regulations by maintaining social distance, Sarma said those who are not revealing their travel details are “equivalent to murderers”.

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