Express News Service
Holder of multiple portfolios including health, industry, home and transport, Satyendar Jain is a busy and key figure in the AAP government. The last year tested him and his party, as Delhi witnessed several peaks during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the process of restarting and rebuilding underway, Jain has his hands full. From managing the crisis, dealing with political adversaries, urban development to expansion plans of the party, the minister gets candid on a wide range of issues.
Excerpts from the interview:
It’s been a year since the first Covid-19 case in Delhi. How would you describe this period in terms of governance and management? What were the highs and the lows?
2020 was totally a ‘corona year’. Not just Delhi or India, but globally. The fight the Delhi government undertook to combat the virus was commendable. We can say that the pandemic is largely under control.
What were the initial challenges of coping with the pandemic?
Initial challenge was knowing about the virus. No one had faced the spread of coronavirus. 1918 was the last time when a pandemic had occurred. There were no proofs or theories to explain Covid-19. Initially, it was said that the impact of the virus will restrain with the rise in temperature. Delhi touched 40 degrees, but it didn’t happen. It was also believed that with the lockdown, cases won’t surge and it will come to an end. So pattern of the spread of virus was not clear to anyone. Another challenge was treatment, which is still not there. First priority was how to contain it.
Initially, the government was coming up with multiple orders in a day. It appeared the authorities were in a confused state and on experiment mode…
That’s because no one had a clear vision about controlling the pandemic and behaviour of the virus. There is still no proper medicine. The Delhi government was proactive. We came up with daily orders. We can proudly say whatever initiatives we took were adopted by others. Take for example plasma therapy. It is in Delhi where plasma therapy was started first across the world. In July, plasma bank was set up. It was then adopted by the US government. Home isolation was our idea. We decided to roll out the policy of keeping asymptomatic positive patients at home. Had we not started it, probably we would have failed to manage the cases. Had we stuck to fix protocols, we might have failed. We even had over 8,500 cases a day and it was not possible to admit all in hospitals.
You have always been tight-lipped about community spread…
No, I have never been tightlipped. I have always spoken about community spread.
But you have maintained that the Centre has to declare about community spread…
In Delhi, there has been community spread. In the last sero survey, 56 per cent of residents had antibodies. But the Centre does not agree over community spread. I think they will when the figures cross 150 per cent (with a smirk). When the number of cases was 100, it was pandemic. Now that cases have crossed a crore, they (Centre) are not saying anything on community spread. I don’t know why they have not accepted the community spread fact.
Do you think cases could have been fewer had the government adopted some extra measures in the beginning?
I don’t think so. We took every possible measure that was needed and all were correct decisions. Lately, people have started taking precautionary measures seriously and wearing masks properly. That has brought a change.
In terms of the Centre’s involvement in managing the crisis in Delhi, they were deeply involved particularly during the first and third peak…
What exactly was their involvement? They held a meeting when cases were already seeing a downward trend. I knew that the peak was over. Even they (Centre) were aware of it. And after that one meeting (during the third wave), they disappeared. There were no more meetings on Covid management. I was told that November 10 was the peak. They held the meeting around November 14 or 15, but what was the impact of that meeting?
Everyone has access to data, whether cases are going up or down. During the first wave we were not so proactive, but the last time we were. We made announcements in public that the peak (third wave) was over, cases were coming down. Our statement was criticised. People and media asked how could Satyendar Jain claim the peak is over! The Centre didn’t have any further meetings.
You had also written to Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla that the Centre was interfering in state matters…
(In a low tone) Doesn’t matter now…such things happen.
What are the plans for the future in the health sector?
Because of the robustness and efficiency shown by the government in the past five years, we could manage the Covid crisis. We didn’t have patients just from Delhi, but also from the neighbourhoods. Delhi is the only city where beds were available. They still are. Even the day we had cases above 8,500, the same number of beds were available. We have always said beds available are thrice the number of infected persons. There was an affidavit in Supreme Court that the government had promised 20,000 beds but delivered 18,800. I would want to know which other state came up with so many beds for Covid patients. And of the 18,800, half were always available. We had full transparency. Of course we made mistakes, but we accepted it and corrected them. We never tried to hide or fabricate data. Even our testing has been the highest.
Last year, the government came up with an order that Delhi hospitals would only treat its residents and not outsiders. Do you think it was a wise decision?
There are problems with infrastructure. Central government hospitals in the city are for everyone. Projection of Covid-19 infection in terms of persons likely to test positive given by the Centre was quite high. We needed more beds to accommodate all. According to their projection, we didn’t have enough beds to admit Delhi patients. Our logic was patients from other states can go where local residents go for treatment. They cannot move to another city to get admitted.
How have the pandemic and lockdown affected plans and programmes scheduled in the health sector in the second term of governance and how do you plan to recover?
We worked mostly on the pandemic since last year. Many new hospitals are underway. Some projects have faced delays. But we are catching up, like the HIMS, which will begin in August. It can be said almost all our projects have been delayed by six to eight months on an average.
After favourable response in Gujarat civil polls, what are the plans for future? Aam Aadmi Party has already announced contesting polls in five states…
Our plan is to work towards the welfare of people and the city. We want to show our work, not fake promises, to the public. If you see other parties have a legacy besides the work they did. We don’t have such legacy and privilege except for the work we did which the public can see. There are leftists and rightists and centrists, but we are nothing. We are just Aam Aadmi who understand the problems of Aam Aadmi and work for them and the development of the city. You get votes for the work you do for welfare and upliftment. We or Arvind Kejirwal will not live a hundred years, but we are showing the public it is possible to develop the city with whatever resources you have.
Other parties and leaders ate public money and did nothing for the people, saying we don’t have funds. But Kejriwal used public money for public welfare. The AAP government is the only one in the country that says we have money for public welfare. Despite financial crunch during the pandemic, we did not scrap any welfare scheme. When lockdown was imposed, people said let’s see how he gives free water and electricity. But we continued to provide these despite the pandemic. So I will say, if leaders stop eating up public funds and taxes, there will be no funds issues. You see the other party, from morning to evening they say we don’t have money to implement this, pay salaries, to do this and that. If you don’t have money, leave it. But the BJP is sitting on it. AAP has started a new model of politics with focus on education, health, power and other things.
They (other parties) don’t care if people are ill or not getting education. But our motto is ‘swasth rahe, acha padhe or aage badhen’. Earlier, electricity bill in Delhi was raised every second year. We didn’t let that happen in the last six-seven years. Rather, AAP provided free electricity and electricity with concessions. They say the city will not grow if electricity rates are not increased. We are showing them the Aam Aadmi model because people will remember us for the work not the faces. If you work for them, they will vote for you. Who was Arvind Kejriwal and who knew him six years back? Now, everyone admires him because of his party, model and thinking. We vote for the work parties do, but they ask us to vote for doing nothing. Some people vote for them and raise questions on AAP.
We listen to the public and answer them. The AAP government was first formed on December 28, 2013, and it is the only party that used education, health, pollution agendas to win elections. Pollution is a major issue and the opposition portrays it like pollution came after AAP took charge. After that, pollution level in the city came down. We may not be hundred per cent but we are trying to fulfil promises gradually. For instance, 1000 mohalla clinics were promised. Within a year, 100 were launched. They only opened 250 dispensaries in 70 years. We have opened at least 500 clinics in five years. I challenge the developed, developing and third world countries, no government has created 500 health centres, 20,000 classrooms in just five years.
AAP has tied up with actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan’s political party Makkal Needi Maiam (MNM) to contest elections in Tamil Nadu. It is said that TN does not encourage outsiders. Being a new party, how does AAP plan to reach the hearts of people and win elections?
The work of a lighthouse is to show the right path and direction to ships. Not to capture them. We are making lighthouses and showing people the direction and helping them get reprieve from corrupt politicians. We fought elections in Gujarat where we were outsiders. So there are no insiders or outsiders. We all are Indians. Also, wherever we fight and win elections, local governance will be done by locals. We won’t go there. We are just showing them the AAP model. Everything is possible. Kamal Hassan is not a famous personality only in Tamil Nadu. He is a famous figure in the entire country for the last 30 years.
What about the promise to clean Yamuna in five years?
AAP promised to clean the river in five years, but one year was lost due to the pandemic. Yamuna will be cleaned in the next three years and we will show it to the people.
Besides the 1.2 km stretch, was there also a plan for redevelopment of other lanes connecting Chandni Chowk? Is the proposal ready? What is the update?
Presently, our target is to finish the Chandni Chowk redevelopment project, as many sanctioned projects got hit by the pandemic and we are still facing problems in getting material and other things from outside. This project is likely to be completed in two-three months. Once it is done, work on other projects will begin.
NMV lanes were created in two other busy markets like Karol Bagh to decongest the vehicular crowd and traffic. But now vehicles of traders and the public are seen creating chaos. Do you think this will happen in Chandni Chowk also?
That project was done by BJP’s MCD. Chandni Chowk redevelopment is done by the Kejriwal government. There will be a lot of difference. They do something, photograph it, get it printed in newspapers for publicity and don’t care about what happens after that. Our work is not like that. In the beginning, traders were reluctant with our project but after the completion, see how their business gets a boost.
The government last year cleared a proposal to construct a ‘signal free corridor’ from Moolchand to Moti Bagh merging all existing flyovers on the stretch. It is said to be handed over to CPWD. What are the updates?
It was not given to CPWD. Delhi PWD will do it and work will start soon. Some time was lost due to the pandemic. Everything was closed for five-six months. It will take time to pick up pace. After that you will see the progress and development.
It is in Delhi where plasma therapy was started first across the world. In July, plasma bank was set up. It was then adopted by the US government. Home isolation was our idea. We decided to roll out the policy of keeping asymptomatic positive patients at home.
But image that came out was, the state was unable to manage the Covid crisis without the Centre’s help. A kind of perception was created…
It is up to you what you want to perceive. If you want to give credit to them, you can. Saara credit unka, saari burai humari…woh credit ke liye baithe hain, dedo unko credit, humein kya fadak padta hai (full credit to them, all fault ours…Centre only wants credit, that can be given to them, it doesn’t affect us).
After favourable response in Gujarat, what are the plans for future? Aam Aadmi Party has already announced contesting polls in five states…
We are just Aam Aadmi who understand the problems of Aam Aadmi and work for them and the development of the city. You get votes for the work you do for upliftment. We or Arvind Kejirwal will not live a hundred years, but we are showing the public it is possible to develop a city with whatever resources you have.
It is said Tamil Nadu does not encourage outsiders. Being a new party, how does AAP plan to reach the hearts of people and win elections there?
We are showing people the direction and helping them get reprieve from corrupt politicians….There are no insiders or outsiders. We all are Indians. Also, wherever we fight and win elections, local governance will be done by locals. We won’t go there. We are just showing them the AAP model. Everything is possible.
Minister Satyendar Jain speaks to Somrita Ghosh and Gayathri Mani on Covid management, urban matters, inroads in Gujarat and other issues. He says the Centre claims credit without doing anything constructive and sounds confident that the AAP model of development is setting a national example