After wreaking havoc in the urban area’s, the second wave of COVID-19 is fast spreading in India’s rural belts as well. This is due to several factors, including lack of awareness, a limited supply of clean water, low levels of nutrition, and most importantly, ill-equipped and insufficient public health centres and district hospitals.
To tackle the problem, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj has issued several advisories to the states aimed towards the management of the deadly pathogen at the rural level and has urged the States to take actions to effectively respond to the COVID pandemic in rural areas.
Stress on preventive measures, vaccination drives
The suggestions include that all states should adopt steps like introducing an intensive communication campaign for the awareness of rural communities on the nature of Covid infection, and preventive and mitigation measures, regular cleaning and sanitisation of villages, measures to dispel false notions and beliefs about the disease and setting up of specific quarantine/isolation centres for the needy and returning migrant labourers. Moreover, the ministry suggested that the Panchayats may be designated to facilitate vaccination drives to ensure maximum coverage of the eligible population.
Besides, the states must establish inter-linkages with the medical facilities at the nearby District and Sub-Districts so that ambulances, advanced testing and treatment facilities, multi-speciality care etc. are provided to the needy without much loss of time.
The states, in turn, have responded with the innovative steps they have adopted to curb its spread and deal with the pandemic in rural areas. The initiatives have been taken by states in consultation with the Centre to stop the virus from spreading further in villages.
As in the rest of India, the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 in Andhra Pradesh’s rural areas have been devastating. To tackle the crisis, the authorities in Andhra Pradesh have formed a Corona Kattadi (monitoring) Committee and taken up sanitation work and door to door surveillance proactively. A resolution on ‘NO MASK NO ENTRY’ has been initiated at the Gram Panchayat (GP) level.
Arunachal Pradesh administration has issued advisories to all District Commissioners with key directions including widespread sanitization of public places, formulation of village monitoring committees, initiation of community involvement and awareness programmes.
In Assam, the state government has formulated a Village Defence Party and Migrant Database for vigilant monitoring of mobility of people. Alongside the government has earmarked funds from the 15th Finance Commission (FC) untied grants for sanitization in the villages of Assam.
Bihar government has undertaken the responsibility of distributing masks amongst all the families of the villages in the state. Also, it has ordered that the masks be procured locally, so as to promote employment. Like Assam, the Bihar administration has also earmarked funds from the 15th Finance Commission (FC) untied grants for sanitization purpose.
In Gujarat, the state government has been conducting door to door surveillance through Pulse oximeter, temperature guns and antigen test kits in all the villages and remote hamlets of the state. Gram Yoddha Samitis have been formed in villages for supporting families of Covid-19 infected patients. Moreover, to contain the surge, self-proclaimed lockdowns have been imposed by the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).
Like other states, Haryana has also been proactively trying to battle the second wave of the pandemic and keep its rural belts safe from the scourge. The state administration has begun conducting periodic awareness programs in the rural areas. Moreover, Village Monitoring Committees have been formulated and specific Quartile/Isolation Centers for migrant labourers have been formed.
Himachal Pradesh also has been conducting door-to-door surveillance to ensure proper quarantine and isolation of those infected with the pathogen. Ration and medical kits are being distributed to Corona infected families. Alongside, the HP government has been carrying out sanitization drives and ensuring that the self-help groups (SHGs) are being engaged in the sewing of masks to promote employment. It has also started ‘eSanjeevani OPD’ for providing free online medical consultation to sick people.
Jharkhand, meanwhile, has converted Panchayat Bhawans, Government Schools and Community Halls into Quarantine Centres to ensure there is no shortage of beds amidst the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state. On one hand, online platforms like Google meet are being used for spreading awareness, while on the other, messaging groups have been created for all the blocks in the villages.
In Karnataka, GPTF and VTF have been revived at the Gram Panchayat level and capacity building with ANS State Institute of Rural Development, Mysuru, which are providing essentials to the vulnerable population.
In a similar manner, Kerala has also intervened against the spread of the second wave of Covid-19 into its rural pockets. The state has established structural response mechanisms for contact tracing and providing support to families under home isolation or quarantine. Furthermore, the Kerala state govt has launched Kudumbashree Community Network in Kerala, a joint programme of the Government of Kerala implemented through Community Development Societies (CDSs) of poor women, serving as the community wing of local governments. Additionally, inventorisation and preparation and management of quarantines and COVID care centres have been prioritised.
Kerala has started a transportation plan by providing ambulances in each gram panchayat to support the health system besides providing two-chambered cars and auto-rickshaws for the needy.
Madhya Pradesh government has, meanwhile, established containment zones (as per the COVID guidelines) in villages with high infections. It has formed Red, Orange and Green zones in Villages/GramPanchayats, based on the number of active COVID patients. Also, control rooms have been established at the Block level, District level and State level.
Maharashtra, which has been one of the worst affected states has initiated ‘My Family My Responsibility’ awareness campaign in the rural areas of the state. Corona Prevention Committee has been formulated and door to door surveillance, to check vitals and any medical emergencies, are being carried out.
In Nagaland, village councils have been set up which are strong links between the panchayats and the people. These councils are ensuring proper training to its members, who in turn, are helping villagers fight the COVID-19 battle.
To curb the spread, Punjab has imposed strict mobility restrictions from other states. It has formed Village Monitoring Committees (VMC) in each village. Moreover, the villages are being encouraged to organize Thikri Pehras to ensure that ‘Night Curfew’ and ‘Weekend Curfew’ orders are complied with.
In Rajasthan, the Congress lead state government has appointed the CEO of the Zila Panchayat office as the nodal officer to carry out all COVID related instructions. They are required to make a daily assessment of survey reports and medical kit distribution status reports. The state govt, along with the active association of the Medical & health department is distributing medical kits amongst villagers.
Sikkim Govt has also been undertaking periodic interactions with the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in the villages. It has been conducting training sessions through web-based tools such as Youtube live. Also, the Sikkim Govt is religiously conducting the inoculation drive to restrict the transmission of COVID.
In Tripura, extensive awareness drives on observing COVID-19 protocols behaviour is being conducted and the PRIs are being encouraged ordered to utilise funds available under Finance Commission Grants. Committees at the Gram Panchayat level have been formed to deal with the virus affected cases as well as to reduce the chance of it spreading.
The Yogi Govt in Uttar Pradesh has taken proactive steps to contain the spread of the virus. Amongst several measures, the village Nigrani Samiti in all the Gram Panchayats has been formulated which focuses on promoting cleanliness. Safai Karmacharis have been hired in every village for regular cleaning, fogging, mopping.
The govt has also been providing financial assistance for the cremation of COVID related deaths.
In fact, the global health body, WHO has also lauded the Yogi Government’s initiative of house-to-house active case finding of Covid-19 in rural areas to contain Covid-19 by testing people with symptoms, disease management and contact tracing.
Uttarakhand too has formed Village Monitoring Committees (VMC) in every Gram Panchayat. Block Response Teams have been formulated at the Block Level to ensure and monitor proper deliverables. A 24×7 help desk system has also been set up by the directorate of Panchayati Raj in the state.
West Bengal is undertaking awareness programmes in panchayats with the help of NGOs and self-help groups and is enabling safe operations of local markets/haats, besides smooth distribution of food grains to the poor under PDS.
Amongst the varied steps taken by the states, the central government specially mentioned few initiatives, which according to them are the most innovative. These included:
- Self-proclaimed lockdown is done by PRIs in Gujarat
- Assam’s initiative of formulating a migrant database for capturing the return migrants in the panchayats both from outside the state and within the state.
- Himachal Pradesh’s eSanjeevani OPD and free online medical consultation for sick people
- Kudumbashree Community Network is a joint programme of the Government of Kerala implemented through Community Development Societies (CDSs) of Poor Women, serving as the community wing of Local Governments. (KERALA).
- Kerala’s Transportation plan – provisioning of ambulances in each GP to support the health system, also two-chambered cars and auto-rickshaws for the needy, ambulances in frontline treatment centres.
India added 3,62,727 new coronavirus infections in a day taking the COVID-19 tally of cases to 2,37,03,665, while the death toll rose to 2,58,317 with 4,120 daily fatalities on May 12th, according to the Union Health Ministry data.