Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren has been under the spotlight in recent weeks: be it because of his tweet on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the alleged Covid vaccine wastage by his state government, replacing the PM’s photo on vaccine certificates with his own, or promising free shrouds for the dead. In a conversation with CNN-News18, he explained his position on these issues as well as his government’s strategy to weather the pandemic. Edited excerpts:
The union health ministry released data on vaccine wastage, showing it was most rampant in Jharkhand at 37.3%, followed by Chhattisgarh at around 30.2% and then Tamil Nadu at 15.5%. At a time when there is a vaccine shortage, don’t you think judicious use can address the issue?
Different types of news reports are going around. The narrative is we got 48 lakh vaccines. And we will waste 18 to 20 lakh vaccines? Doesn’t it look like the interpretation is wrong…and discussion is happening over it?
You tweeted about the Prime Minister’s phone call. After that a lot of BJP leaders attacked you. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister said that in this fight against Covid-19 we should strengthen the hands of the PM to effectively combat the pandemic. Did you expect this kind of backlash?
In today’s date, every state is fighting based on individual capacity. The federal system’s power is collapsing. Our state is not like Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh. It is a very backward state. Scheduled Tribe, the poor population is high. The pandemic is not party-oriented. When this country is in difficulty, states are dependent on the Centre for each and every thing. The respected Prime Minister called. He only spoke his mind. It would have been better if they had talked about work and listened to work.
So if you are dependent on the central government, is a confrontational approach the right one?
If you (Centre) are not helping, what will we do? You are not listening to the state’s problems. There is no proper documentation of deaths. The last time also all of a sudden lockdown was imposed. Some died on railway tracks, some on the roads. The Centre should know where disaster will occur. It is the responsibility of the central government to stay alert. Till today, this has not been announced as a national disaster.
A lot of states, like Delhi or Maharashtra, have imposed lockdowns…
First, they said lockdown should be the last option. The result is 99 per cent of the states are in partial or full lockdown. The states protected themselves by imposing a lockdown. It has helped in controlling the pandemic.
You had said you would carry out a global tender process for vaccines. Many other states had proposed this, and you did too. What is the status of that?
I am so frustrated on this subject. Our resources are very limited. I demanded the import of remdesivir. The Centre didn’t pay any heed. Apparently, we got 48 lakh vaccines of which these people say we wasted 18 to 20 lakh, which is wrong. Our wastage is only 4.63 per cent. In rural areas, our drive is going on. We have very few active cases. Around 170-160 people were dying (daily), now only 19 people are dying.
Will you reach out to the Centre for ensuring vaccine supply?
For vaccination of the 18+ age group, we have to get 12 lakh vaccines per month. But we get only 1.5 lakh vaccines. If we have to vaccinate 45+ we would need 15 lakh a month. But we get only 6 lakh. How will this match? The central government should look after the process of getting foreign players. A lot of state governments have come back empty-handed. We have also kept our tender process ready. But I don’t think we will get it. Still, we are working on it.
You removed the PM’s photo from vaccine certificates and put your own instead…
What is wrong in keeping the state government’s identity as photos? The state government is also working. The state is serving the people using their money.
Your government promised free shrouds for the dead because of which you faced sharp criticism. What was the intention behind this scheme?
I don’t know what is the interpretation on kafan (shroud). I had a discussion with all public representatives. The thing is, in lockdown even cloth shops are closed. We wanted to give a solution. At least we can give a dignified send-off to the dead.
You are talking about dignity in death. You sent out a tweet on May 6 that went viral. You wrote that the PM only does ‘mann ki baat’ and not ‘kaam ki baat’, would have been better if he listened to ‘kaam ki baat’. Do you think that tweet was avoidable?
If there is so much of a problem then clearance should be from those people. They themselves will know if it is political pain or administrative pain.
And do you feel the central government is not cooperating at all?
This is a very tough situation. I am not in the mood to fight. With limited resources, we are working. In rural areas, miscounting of deaths is being confronted. I am auditing them. I have instated 15,000 workers in the state. The social system is somewhat different. When we have the data, we can plan accordingly.