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Bihar Dy CM Sushil Modi

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File image of Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi | Photo: ANI
File image of Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi | Photo: ANI


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New Delhi: States are facing a slump in revenue due to the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as well as higher spending to deal with the pandemic. At this critical time, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi has requested the central government to relax the fiscal deficit target, and the Reserve Bank of India to chip in and help states borrow more at lower interest rates.

In an interview to ThePrint, Modi, also the state’s finance minister, detailed a host of financial measures his state has suggested to the Narendra Modi government, including that the RBI should buy state bonds to mobilise easy resources without paying a higher interest rate in the open market.

BJP leader Modi said every state was feeling the pinch — five or six states have cut their spending on welfare projects, while a few, such as Telangana and Maharashtra have cut or deferred employees’ salaries.

“Bihar, being a revenue surplus state, anticipated early and made provisions for committed expenditure like salary and pension of employees, resources for loan repayments and disaster management according to schedule, but in the long run, states need more resources to fight this situation,” he said.


Also read: Bihar turns clock back for Covid-19 fight, seeks to replicate 1998 polio eradication drive


Financial measures

Last week, 19 states sought to borrow Rs 37,500 crore through the sale of bonds, but they could only mobilise Rs 32,560 crore through RBI’s auction platform due to unavailability of buyers and foreign institutional investors.

“States need more funds to combat the coronavirus. We have requested the Centre to relax rules to use sinking funds for loan repayment, and relax the fiscal deficit target from 3 per cent to 4 per cent to mobilise more resources,” Modi said.

Modi said a relaxation of one per cent in the fiscal deficit target would give states a bigger window to borrow.

“A relaxation of one percentage point will let states borrow an extra Rs 200,000 crore. It’s a fact that due to uncertainty in the bond market, there is a lack of appetite to buy bonds,” Modi said.

Suggesting that RBI should buy state bonds, he said: “Fiscal uncertainty has compounded due to coronavirus, and states are borrowing at higher rates from the market. The borrowing rate has increased, and there are fewer buyers for state bond. Here, RBI should come forward and purchase state bonds.”


Also read: Sharad Pawar’s 5 suggestions for Modi govt to help states maintain economic balance


Sinking fund and labour cess fund

Modi said the government should allow use of the sinking fund to battle this crisis.

The sinking fund was set up in 1999-2000 by the RBI to meet redemption of market loans of states, including loans from banks. It can be used when state revenues dry up, and or as a stop-gap arrangement till the time economic activity is revived. According to the RBI, the consolidated sinking fund has Rs 1.25 lakh crores as on 31 December 2019.

“We have requested the Centre to use consolidated sinking fund in loan repayment. We have Rs 7,524 crore in Bihar’s pool, which we can utilise at this critical time. In any case, this is an unutilised fund kept for emergencies, we are not asking for it to be utilised for any other purpose,” he said.

He added that the central government needs to modify laws to utilise the Rs 31,000 crore labour cess fund. On 26 March, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced that states can use the funds collected for welfare of construction workers, as part of the coronavirus relief package.

However, the Bihar deputy CM said: “It will not help until the Centre changes guideline, and the fund can be used for other migrant workers, because the number of registered construction workers is not significant and they keep changing their locations. How will the state locate them? We have requested to change norms to utilise it, otherwise the fund will remain idle.”


Also read: Arvind Kejriwal confused migrants to trigger exodus from Delhi: Bihar deputy CM Sushil Modi


Action Bihar has taken

Bihar has so far reported 70 positive cases of Covid-19, and four districts — Siwan, Munger, Nawada and Nalanda — have been declared hotspots. Siwan alone has reported 29 cases.

To deal with this, Modi said: “From today, door-to-door screening has been started to detect symptomatic cases. The screening will be conducted with special focus on senior citizens and those who have entered state between 1 and 25 March.”

He also spoke about helping Bihar’s migrant workers stranded in different states.

“We have launched an app and a web link where they can register. We have received 12 lakh calls at our call centres from those working in Delhi and other states. We have transferred Rs 1,000 each in six lakh migrant and stranded workers’ accounts,” Modi said.

This figure is beside the 18 lakh ration card-holder families which have been sent Rs 1,000 each from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.

“We are doing everything we can to help Bihari workers stranded in other parts of country. They should not be disappointed; they contact helpline numbers for any assistance like food or shelter. Once the lockdown ends, they can come home,” he said.


Also read: ‘Nitish dumped Bihari workers’ — allies, opposition slam Bihar CM over coronavirus response


 

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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