India: COVID-19 hits work of Jharkhand government

Patna: COVID-19 has badly hampered the functioning of the government in Jharkhand state in the past five months with ministers coming under the grip of coronavirus at frequent intervals. So far, half the cabinet in Jharkhand has been affected by COVID-19.

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Of the 11 ministers in Jharkhand, six have been infected by COVID-19. Minority welfare minister Haji Hussain Ansari, 73, succummed to the disease, while education minister Jagarnath Mahto had to undergo lung transplant at a hospital in Chennai after COVID-19 infection severely damaged his lung.

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53-year-old education minister remained on life support system for 21 days in the local hospital and ultimately had to be shifted to Chennai. He is still under the observation of doctors at the hospital. The state government recently released Rs5 million as first instalment for Mahto’s treatment.

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Finance minister Rameshwar Oraon returned to duty recently after completing self-quarantine. The other ministers who suffered COVID-19 infection in the past included transport minister Champai Soren (63), minister for women and child welfare Joba Manjhi (56), minister for drinking water and sanitation Mithilesh Kumar Thakur (54), minister for health and family welfare Banna Gupta (37) and agriculture minister Badal Patralekh (44).

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Lawmakers said the functioning of the Jharkhand government had been severely affected. “The development works have been badly impacted as the chief minister remained heavily burdened with too many departments after his cabinet colleagues got infected with COVID-19. Currently, he is in charge of more than a dozen departments,” Jharkhand’s former deputy chief minister Sudesh Mahto said.

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Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren is currently in charge of various departments, such as Home (including Prison), Cabinet secretariat, Coordination, Personnel, Administrative Reforms, Raj Bhasha and all departments which have not been assigned to others. There are some 33 key departments in Jharkhand, but most of them remain with the chief minister.

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Mahto alleged no regular meetings were being held by the government as the ministers remained in and out of hospitals. “In fact, no full-fledged works are being carried out. No government target has been fixed; no five-year plan has been set,” said Mahto, who is also All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) president.

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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker Ramchandra Chandravansi said development works had been hit in the past six months since ministers battled coronavirus. “COVID-19 outbreaks have badly affected the government’s functioning in Jharkhand. Development works are stalled, revenue collection works have stopped and the government has no money to pay to contractors,” said Chandravansi who represents Vishrampur seat in the state assembly.

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In August, the entire Jharkhand cabinet, including chief minister Hemant Soren, had to be quarantined, after a minister attended the cabinet meeting just before he tested positive for COVID-19.

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Apart from the ministers, COVID-19 also infected 29 state lawmakers in the 81-member Jharkhand assembly. Of them, 11 belonged to the ruling party and 18 from the opposition.

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The first death due to COVID-19 was reported in the state in April and since then it has claimed the lives of 988 people, and infected over 111,000.

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