GUWAHATI, April 26 - Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal today admitted that there would be major challenges ahead for the State Government to tide over the crisis created by outbreak of coronavirus. But at the same time, he expressed confidence that the State would be able to overcome the crisis working as �Team Assam�.
In an interview with The Assam Tribune, the Chief Minister said that the State Government will soon start a process of consultation with economists and experts in various fields to chalk out comprehensive plans to tide over the crisis. He said that the present crisis exposed the weaknesses of the State and �we must take corrective measures to deal with the problems.� Giving an example, he pointed out that the State is not yet self sufficient in production of essential items and has to depend on imports from other states. There is need for dealing with the problem on war footing, he added. He also said that the crisis led to improvement of the health care system in the State.
On the challenges, the Chief Minister said that stress has to be given on tea and agriculture sectors because of the involvement of sizeable number of people in these sectors. He said that tea plucking and manufacture have started by maintaining social distancing and the challenge now would be to explore the international market to boost exports. The agriculture sector has been exempted from the lockdown and harvesting has started. The challenge will now be to strengthen the marketing system, he said. Similarly, the hospitality industry along with tourism has taken a severe beating and after the situation improves, effective steps would have to be taken to give a boost to these sectors.
Sonowal said that while chalking out a comprehensive plan, stress would have to be given on providing employment avenues to the youths. There is a possibility that a large number of youths of Assam working in other states of the country may come back and this issue has also to be kept in mind, he admitted.
Replying to a question, Sonowal admitted that repairing and construction of embankments were delayed because of the lockdown and with the rainy season approaching, the possibility of the State facing floods and erosion cannot be ruled out. He said that the Water Resources Department has been instructed to start work on a war footing by maintaining social distance and �we hope to complete repairing of the embankments before the floods.�
The Chief Minister admitted that the financial health of the State is a major cause of concern as the revenue generation has come down drastically. Though the Centre has promised to extend help to the State, the resources of the Central Government are also shrinking. To deal with the problem, the State Government will have to reduce expenditure and stress will have to be given only on the priority sectors, he added. He expressed the view that the lockdown may have to be eased in the areas demarcated as green zones to resume economic activities, but no such decision has yet been taken.
On the battle against COVID-19, the Chief Minister admitted that it was a Herculean task, but all the Ministers, MLAs, MPs, elected representatives of the local bodies, officers and employees of the State Government are working as a team in this hour of crisis. Along with the Health Department, the other concerned Departments including Police, Food and Civil Supplies, Power, Transport etc are working round the clock in the fight against coronavirus. As there have been allegations of irregularities in distribution of essential items, he also warned that strong action would be taken against anyone found to be indulging in corruption at this critical period.
The Chief Minister also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for taking bold steps for the protection of lives of 1.3 billion Indian citizens and leading the war against COVID-19 from the front.