Our economy is tourism dependent... I don't expect many visitors this year: Uttarakhand...

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The first of the major relaxations as part of India’s three-phase ‘unlocking’ plan following Covid-19 lockdown came into force on Monday. Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat spoke to Chetan Chauhan and Neeraj Santoshi about the plan, the pandemic, return of migrants, and revival of the economy. Edited excerpts:

What steps have you taken to check the Covid-19 spread?

Uttarakhand reported its first case on March 15 when an IFS [Indian Forest Service] trainee officer returned from Spain and tested positive. We Immediately announced school holidays and issued an order regarding work from home in case of government employees. Even before the [national] lockdown was announced from March 25, we had imposed lockdown here on March 23. We identified all the jamaatis [who attended a congregation in Delhi that led to a spike in Covid-19 cases in March] and their contacts, numbering over 1,400, and sent them for quarantine and treatment. We intensified our vigil on borders and started sanitisation drives on Saturdays and Sundays.

How are you dealing with the return of migrants, who may have been infected?

By May 15, we were moving towards freeing the state from Covid, but then the cases again spiked with the return of the migrants. We expected that cases will spike with migrants returning from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi. But it was important to bring these people back, as the industries and the service sectors they were working in had shut down. In the last two days, comparatively, the Covid-19 cases have come down.

What are your plans for the migrants who have returned?

As per our survey, the people, who had returned, wanted to return. Now, most of the returnees do not want to go back. We have launched an online portal HOPE through which skilled people of Uttarakhand working or living in any part of the country can upload details regarding their expertise based on which authorities and employers here can take a decision on where and how they can be employed in the state. I have been told that around 6,000 people have uploaded their details.

How does the state plan to revive its economy as the country unlocks?

Except in Dehradun, we have opened all religious places, hotels, and restaurants. We allowed industries to start operating even before the unlock began. Farming had not stopped. We have started focussing more on agriculture and the allied sectors. The demand for Himalayan products will increase, be it the immunity-boosting herbs, vegetables, fruits, honey, or ayurvedic products.

How long will it take to revive the economy?

...we have incurred a loss of over Rs 8,000 crore. Our economy is primarily dependent on tourism. And the way the situation is emerging, despite unlock, people are still apprehensive. Our main tourism season is from April to June. During monsoons and after, tourists hardly come here. I do not see many tourists coming here this year.

Does Uttarakhand have any plans to promote Ayurvedic and Himalayan products?

The demand for herbs and medicinal plants has soared. Take the example of herb Giloy, which was available earlier for Rs 10 per kg. Now, it is available at Rs 50. Likewise, the demand for fruits and vegetables has increased. Products like honey and golden trout, most of which are unseasonal, are in great demand. We have especially focussed on herbs. Under Mukhyamantri Swarojgar Yojana, we have identified 150 employment avenues. People who opt for this scheme will get subsidised loans to start their own ventures for producing Himalayan products. We are focussing on hilly areas, where we have started rural growth centres, where local people will be facilitated to start their own ventures using local resources without harming the environment. So overall, we will be focussing on branding, grading and value addition of our Himalayan products. We are also developing a cluster approach for developing and promoting local Himalayan products. So far, we have identified 10,000 clusters in the state related to agriculture, horticulture, aromatic plants, fisheries, medicinal plants.

What are apprehensions related to tourism and pilgrimage to Char Dham?

We have opened all religious places except for Char Dham and the ones in Dehradun as the priests are apprehensive. I have told officials and public representatives to talk to them. We want to start Char Dham yatra in a limited way... People are apprehensive about tourists and we need to tell people that they need to learn to live with the virus. We are working on this.

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