Imphal Review of Arts and Politics


A BA Blow by Blow Account of The Ministerial Fisticuffs Over COVID-19 Rice Distribution to Quarantined Public

[avatar user=”Rajkumar Bobichand” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]RAJKUMAR BOBICHAND[/avatar]

While Manipur is fighting COVID-19 pandemic with total siege of normal life since March 21 General Strike and India-wide lockdown from March 24, politicians from several parties, even those within the ruling parties and other political aspirants are fighting for their different agenda amidst the distribution of rice and other essential commodities.

There is no denying the fact that some MLAs alleged that the quantity of rice allotted to them would not be sufficient for distribution at the rate of 4 kg of rice per head as assured by Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren. There are claims and counterclaims between MLAs and Ministers on the issue of distribution of rice.

There are complaints through media from many local bodies from various parts of the state about non-distribution of the quantity of rice as per the Chief Minister’s assurance and non-distribution of rice at all in some places.

These are definitely due to the emergency declaration of the lockdown without proper planning and policy. Even after the declaration of lockdown, attempt to evolve a proper planning and policy for distribution of survival ration is not evident yet.

When the practical lockdown in Manipur has completed its third week, it is really hard for the daily wage-earning families and low-income cashless families to keep their family kitchens burning with the few kilogram of rice distributed unevenly free of cost by the government.

Due to the vacuum being left by the lack of proper planning and policy of survival ration supply all and sundry flocks in the gap. Fighting for survival ration and crisis of rice distribution dominate the lockdown lives in Manipur.  To contain the COVID-19 lockdown is imperative and a must. To make lockdown successful is to ensure people stay home is also obvious. To enforce people stay at their home safely is to make survival ration other essential commodities available to them.

Crisis of Rice Distribution Deepens

When Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar was compelled to confront some residents of his constituency regarding the non-distribution of rice as per assurance of Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren, the crisis of rice distribution has deepened and turned into an ugly situation as written here in earlier stories.

It has been reported in media and gone viral even in social media that Uripok Assembly Constituency MLA and Deputy Chief Minister of Manipur Yumnam Joykumar reportedly described Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren a lunatic or hogwash or gibberish and his assurances are meaningless before the residents of his constituency in connection with the issue of distribution of rice as relief measure to help the people during the lockdown to fight COVID-19.

It may be mentioned that Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar is leader of 4-member National People’s Party (NPP) in the BJP led coalition government under Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren.

BJP spokesperson and MLA of Lamshang Assembly Constituency and Deputy Chairman of State Planning Board Salam Rajen’s retaliation to what Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar charges against Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren has worsen the relations between the coalition partners of the government. Rajen even demanded through media that the NPP ministers in the government ought to resign from the Council of Ministers if Deputy Chief Minister called the Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren is a lunatic and his assurances are meaningless.

Rajen further asserted that the coalition partners of the Government must work together, they must work under the incumbent leader and it is also essential for all the coalition partners to speak and act after understanding the wishes and position of BJP.

Talking about the distribution of rice in Uripok Assembly Constituency, the BJP MLA said that the Assembly segment’s rice quotas are 916.45 quintals for Priority Households and 353.15 quintals for AAY totalling to 1,269.60 quintals.

The total number of voters in Uripok AC is 23032. If the total quota of rice is distributed among the voters, each one of them gets 5.050 kg. Even if all the people including those who are not enlisted in the electoral roll and who do not possess NFSA cards are taken into account, each one of them would get around 4 kg, Rajen said.

Even if the rice quotas given for Priority Households and AAY are not enough for distribution to all the 31,740 people of Uripok AC, the Deputy Chief Minister may buy additional quantity of rice which is available at Rs 22 per Kg as done by other MLAs to make up rice shortage, if there is any, said the BJP MLA.

All the Ministers and MLAs ought to listen to what the Chief Minister suggests or says regarding the ongoing lockdown and relief measures taken up to minimise its impacts upon the masses.

It was unwarranted and unbecoming of the Deputy Chief Minister to say that what the Chief Minister said was hysterics of a lunatic person, Rajen said.

In case the Chief Minister is out of station, the Deputy Chief Minister should look after all the affairs of the State but what Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar spoke and did is just a show of sheer irresponsibility, Rajen remarked.

Rajen further added that the comments of Health and Family Welfare Minister L Jayantakumar who is also an MLA of NPP, regarding distribution of rice in Keishamthong Assembly Constituency by RK Shivachandra at his personal capacity are also highly undesirable.

In the later development on April 9, in retaliation to what Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar said against Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren, all the portfolios of MAHUD, Forest, Environment & Climate Change, Science & Technology, Economics & Statistics from had been divested and left empty handed.

Sufficient Quantity of Rice

Only when the crisis of rice distribution reached a grave situation, the CAF&PD Minister Karam Shyam broke his silence through media about the distribution of rice to help people fight COVID-19 in the lockdown. On April 9 he has categorically assured that there would be no shortage of rice in the State on account of the country-wide lockdown compelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government has also been working hard to minimise the impacts of the lockdown on the public, he said. Taking serious note of the prevailing situation, the Central Government recently has launched Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) to help economically weaker sections of the society in different forms.

PMGKY has a component called Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) under which food grains including rice would be provided to the poor free of cost.
Under PMGKAY, 5 kg of rice would be provided free of cost to each eligible individual for three months (April to June).

For the State of Manipur, 2, 00,500 people are listed as AAY beneficiaries and 22, 56,281 people are listed under Priority Household and would get the benefits given under PMGKAY. For this new scheme, the State has already procured 10,250 quintals of rice and another 11,281.405 quintals of rice, informed the CAF&PD Minister adding that this scheme is not related to NFSA. He said that distribution of rice under PMGKAY would begin soon and the need for some minor local adjustments may also arise.

Moreover, the State has started purchasing rice from the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) at the rate of Rs 22.50 per Kg. Whereas the State Government has proposed to the Central Government to purchase of 10,000 MT of rice from OMSS, the Prime Minister’s Office suggested that the particular quantity of rice may be procured after distribution of rice allotted under PMGKAY, Shyam informed. Nonetheless, in the first phase, 5000 quintals of rice was purchased from OMSS and released. Another 5000 quintals would be procured soon.

As rice allotted to the State under NFSA and PMGKAY cannot be used otherwise, the demand for rice to be purchased from OMSS has been rising, said the CAF&PD Minister.
Saying that there would not be shortage of rice, he asserted that there is no case of diverting rice to markets or distribution of the staple food items fraudulently for profit. It is rather unfortunate that some elements were trying to project Government officials and staff who are only doing their duty in the wrong light, he cautioned.

It is also a matter of grave concern that some Ministers and ruling MLAs seemed poised to blame each other even as the whole State has been passing through a very critical phase, Karam Shyam said.

Generally the process of taking of rice starts on the 15th of very month and actual lifting is done after the 20th day. There was a general strike on March 21 followed by public curfew on the next day, and the public curfew was succeeded by the ongoing country-wide lockdown. As a result, one month’s allocation of rice could not be lifted, the Minister explained.

Fighting COVID and Chief Minister’s Assurance

On the front of fighting COVID-19, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren seeking support and cooperation of the people through a video message, said that saving lives of people is the top-priority of the Government at this hour of pandemic and appealed to all the people of Manipur to fight collectively and win the war against coronavirus.

He expressed that the Government is fully prepared to fight the coronavirus the Government has enough stock of medical equipments such as 8,519 PPEs, 1,85,458 masks of 3-layer, 22,148 N-95 masks, 76,128 hand gloves, 96 non-contact thermometers, 5 litre 999 jerry cans of sodium hypochlorite solution and hand sanitizers etc.

Considering the current situation in the country, the Chief Minister hinted that the ongoing Nation-wide lockdown may be extended for some days to check the spread of COVID-19. He opined that as the disease is highly contagious, everyone must take utmost precautionary measures to stop further spread of the disease.

He further said that the State has received four consignments of medical equipments and essential medicines till April 9 from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare under the supervision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.  Another consignment may also arrive within 2/3 days, he added.

Acknowledging the talents and potential of the doctors, nurses and paramedical staff of the State, the Chief Minister appreciated the team of JNIMS who have treated the first COVID-19 patient of the State successfully. He expressed gratitude to the team for their tireless work and announced that the Government would give a cash reward of Rs 35 lakh to the team.

He appreciated Dr Uthan of medicine and Dr Manojkumar of laboratory who volunteered and led the team in treating the patient at JNIMS. The Chief Minister also stated that the Government is actively considering cash incentives or awards to those who are working on the frontline.

Clarifying about the proposed construction of a quarantine centre at Langthabal, he stated that the Government had called off the construction as many clubs and individuals raised objections. He, nonetheless, assured that the Government is committed to construct a dedicated quarantine centre at a site free of disputes.

Stating some of the recent measures taken up by the Government, he mentioned that the State Cabinet has decided that up to Rs 25 lakhs can be used in each Assembly Constituency from MLADF for COVID-19 related expenses as one time measure for supply of essential commodities, protective gear like mask, sanitizers, drinking water etc.

To help people can easily buy rice, two or three shops will be identified in each district for sale of rice under open market system, he added.

The Chief Minister informed that ex-gratia Rs. 500 each for 55,585 beneficiaries under Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme 2 crore 77 lakhs has been released for 5380 beneficiaries under Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme Rs. 26,90,000 has been released and for 1007 beneficiaries under  Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme Rs. 5,04,000 has been released. The total amount for altogether 61,972 beneficiaries is 3 crore 97 lakhs. This will help people in the lockdown, he added.

Manipur Old Age Pension Scheme for 12 months amounting to around Rs 11 crore and Manipur Old Age Pension selected through ‘Go to Village’ amounting to around Rs 2.5 crore will be released soon. CMST scholarship for 110 students with disability for duration of one year will be released. CMST- care giver allowance to 4,879 persons with disability amounting to Rs 5.85 crore has been released, he said

Biren also appealed to the people to stop posting any message or videos on social media which can incite communal tension in the State at this hour of grief.
The Chief Minister also informed that the Centre has given its nod to setting up of a State Medical College at Churachandpur.

Meanwhile, the condition of the COVID-19 patient from Lilong, Abdul Rahman, 53 is improving. He may not need ventilator support, said RIMS Medical Superintendent Professor Ch Arunkumar on April 9.

Commenting on the preparedness of the hospital in facing the disease, he said that RIMS now has 42 ventilators dedicated to COVID-19 treatment.

“COVID-19 has two stages, the early stage is very infective while the second stage is critical in which the patient may develop difficulty in breathing. The latter stage requires ventilator support,” he said.

The RIMS has now 19 ventilators with 10 new arrivals. The hospital now has the required PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), 5,000 N95 masks, 5,000 chloroquine tablets and hand sanitizers, he added.

Talking about necessary cooperation and united efforts to contain the spread of the virus, he said that even though the number of cases in Manipur has reduced to one from two, people should stay at homes. The number of cases in other States of India is rising. People should maintain social/physical distancing and stay at home during the lockdown to flatten the curve by avoiding virus transmission, he said.

JNIMS Hospital sources said family members of first COVID-19 patient Ningombam Vimi met her on April 10. After Vimi tested negative 3 times after intensive treatment and care at JNIMS, people of Manipur see a ray of hope in fighting COVID-19.

However, TV Channel News9 reported on April 9 that one 66 years old man from Bengaluru coded P195 as one of the COVID-19 patients of Karnataka who suffered from Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) and confirmed COVID-19 had travelled from Manipur to Bengalaru on March 12. The P195 is being treated at the Hospital at Bengaluru.

With the spike of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients in most parts of the world and the least test so far conducted in Manipur is only 197, Manipur cannot be considered COVID-19 free. More preventive measures need to be taken and the only key is to flatten the curve. To flatten the curve, lockdown is the most successful means as we have learned from Wuhan. To have a successful lockdown supply of survival ration and other essential commodities is a must for the government. The fight against COVID-19 in Manipur has a long way to go.

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