The district administration of Bijapur, Chattisgarh had already mounted a war against poverty through its focus on development works, strengthening of public delivery system and welfare programs. To improve the overall quality of life of the people in this isolated and Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected district, the administration, through the Transformation of Aspirational Districts Programme (TADP), had embarked on a multiple projects: construction of some 140 toilets in schools, 500 bio-toilets across the district through district panchayat, land finalisation for the model school dedicated for the children directly affected by LWE activities, blacktopping the roads, and was working towards decreasing the malnutrition among children. Every sector was put into a mission mode. But all this came to a grinding halt when an enemy invisible to the human eye – COVID-19 – knocked our doors. The virus had already engulfed and challenged some mighty nations, affecting millions and killing thousand of people and ravaging the economies. The district administration now stared at a whole different war - to fight this deadly Corona Virus with limited resources in an area where the human and physical infrastructure was otherwise dismal.
As the deadly virus started ringing alarm bells in India, the district administration swung into disaster management mode. Led by the District Collector, the district administration, the aspirational district fellows, district and block level officers, doctors, social activists, local NGOs and other ground workers geared up to tackle the challenge. An emergency meeting was called on 25th March soon after the Prime Minister announced a three-week long lockdown. All the district level officers of various departments and District Panchayat participated in the meeting. After threadbare discussion and cross-sharing of ideas, it was decided to set up a control unit at three levels- the district level, the block level and at the village level. The Control units are reporting to each other on the basis of both bottom -up and top-down approach for the effective reporting, tracking and streamlining of essential services. The duty roaster was formed in which all the district officers and other department heads were assigned their roles. The message from the collector was simple and straight. “We all need to pull up our socks to fight this invisible enemy. Rain or no rain, good weather or bad weather. We have to be on job 24*7 to win this war with whatever limited resources we have”.
On March 26, a Control Unit was set up at the district level, followed by the control units in all the four blocks of the district. Similarly, in the next one day the control units were set up in all the gram panchayats (169) of the district. As of now, at the district level, the officers are monitoring the control unit along with the subordinates according to the duty roaster. At the village level, the Sarpanch and employees from health, education have been tasked the responsibilities of the control units. People in the district have been informed by the awareness teams about the control units. The control units take calls to address the problems of different nature like food banks in villages, availability of ration, medical facilities etc.
With the convergence of the departments of health, district panchayat and police, several teams have been formed who are manning the entry points of the districts. The officers/ officials have been assigned their roles, from monitoring the border entries to tracking the people with different travel history, setting up quarantine centers, isolation wards and security deployment to ensure the effective lockdown- with a humane approach. Isolation wards were already set up in the district hospital much before the lockdown was announced as a precautionary measure. As the cases started surging in India with government announcing the lockdown, the newly built Livelihood college building was turned into a full-fledged quarantine facility. A team of doctors and paramedics under the direct monitoring of the collector have been set up to look after the centre.
The major challenge before the district administration was to use a humane way to stop people from venturing out, while ensuring that the people are fed, the emergency services are active and, the malnourished children and pregnant women registered in Anganwadi Centers are fed. It also had to ensure that the banking services run smooth, cash available at the ATMs and banking correspondents in villages had enough cash in hand. Bijapur being a district comprising majority of tribal population with just 43% of literacy rate, the first challenge before the district administration was to ensure that the population in the district is made aware about the risk that they were facing on account of the Corona virus. So a Stay Home Stay Safe campaign was started with the plying of vehicles fitted with loud speakers across length and breadth of the district. The campaign would create awareness among people about the precautions need to be taken and making people understand why they were being asked to stay home. Various mode of communication like posters, banners, direct messaging by community health workers, social workers, community heads and other volunteers were used to create awareness in the district. The awareness teams headed by a senior official from civil administration and police administration and members from local community, social workers are part of the awareness groups.
The second challenge that the district faced was a shortage of PPE. The much-needed face masks were short in the market. During the emergency meeting that usually takes place as and when needed, it was decided to rope in SHGs for making face masks. The SHGs registered with the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) in the district was asked to provide the services of trained SHGs for making masks.
Under the supervision of Nagar Palika, four Self Help Groups (SHGs) were given space at different places in the town to start making face masks. These SHGs groups as on today (April 12) have made 5000 masks. These masks are available at Rs 10 per piece. The masks were procured by Women and Child Development Department (WCD) for Anganwadi workers, workers and sweepers of Nagar Palika. The general public were encouraged through awareness campaigns to procure masks from the SHGs units. This helped the district administration to judiciously use the N-95 masks and the rest of the stock supplied by the state govt. The SHGs continue to make masks to meet the requirements.
The poor and needy whose daily work and hence income had taken a severe hit would have faced food scarcity in absence of targeted food provision. To address this challenge the district administration decided that this section will be provided food through Gram Panchayats, local communities, Food Supplies department and community workers. A large number of local farmers have contributed/donated rice from their stock to the district administration to help to feed the needy. - which is monitored by Nagar Palika in Bijapur town and by panchayats in the villages. The state government has also provided free ration to the people for the two months which has been stored in food banks set up in every village post the lockdown. The Food Banks are monitored by Zila Panchayats and Gram Panchayats at the village level.
Under the Chief Minister’s Suposhan Abhiyan, beneficiaries (children and pregnant women registered in Anganwadis) used to get lunch at the anganwadi centre (AWC) and other nutritious food packets. After the lock down came into force, the anganwadi centres had been already closed following the state government orders. Within days, a mechanism was developed to streamline the anganwadi services.
The TADP Cell along with the Women and Child Development Department (WCD) in a virtual meeting over phone calls reached out to sector supervisors of ICDS. Accordingly, masks and gloves were provided to anganwadi workers to ensure home delivery of dry ration- Rice, Dal, Ata, Soya, Channa, Chiki (paste of a peanuts) and biscuits. All AWCs of the district have been provided a supply stock for 21 days. There are 29,914 beneficiaries registered with the ICDS department in the district, who are being provided ration at home. The Anganwadi workers are reaching out to the beneficiaries in their jurisdictions to take stock of the availability of food. “As of now the ration there is enough quantity of dry food packets and rice stocked at all the Anganwadi centres which can last for a month,” said District Program Officer of the WCD Department.
The schools were closed as a result of the lockdown. But the nutrition provision that the schools used to provide in the form of mid-day meal had to continue. Around 20 thousand students registered in Primary and Middle schools have been provided ration under Mid-day meal scheme. The teachers and SHGs ensure the ration are delivered to the students at the door step. The students in Primary schools have been provided 4-kgs of rice and 800 gm Dal. Similarly, for the students in Middle level is Rice 6 kg and 1.20 kg of Dal.
In almost every village, the concept of Village Warriors has worked well to track the inter-state travellers. The village warriors concept came up from one of the villages that had voluntarily formed a group of people to man the boundaries of their village. The group would stop outsiders from venturing into the area. The idea was replicated in other villages once the district administration got to know about the particular village.
The Villager Warriors/vigilantes keep a close eye on the movement of outsiders into village and inform the authorities concerned. This has helped in effective tracking of people, which otherwise would not have been possible given the LWE challenges. Presently, the locals in around three dozen villages have also blocked roads with barricades and other wooden logs on their own disallowing any vehicular movement- as a community driven initiative which was welcomed by one and all. The villages along the National Highway and other main roads have been keeping an eagles eye on outside movements through these Warriors.
The Bijapur district shares border with Maharashtra (the worst hit state by Covid-19) and Telangana. The labourers of Bijapur who returned to the home district from these states have been kept in isolation wards created in schools. After a mandatory period of 14 days, they are allowed to go to their villages after proper. To deal with the space crush, it was decided by the district administration to turn schools into isolation wards. The District Education Officer was tasked to list out the schools with good infrastructure, proper electricity, drinking water and other facilities. Most of the isolation centers have been set up in Bhopalpatnam block which shares border with Telangana, Maharashtra and has high interstate influx of people.
A team of doctors, health workers and paramedics staff along with the Cluster Academicians (CACs) of education department work as foot soldiers to maintain the necessary protocol. The district level official make frequent visits according to the duty roaster. People with foreign travel history or from areas affected by Corona Virus are/were tracked well on time. Two doctors were tracked and put under quarantine for having a foreign travel history. Likewise, 14 persons with symptoms of cough, cold and inter-state travel history were kept in self-isolation. The medical teams often visit these people for checkups. Two entry points at Taemed (Telangana border point) and Tarlaguda (Maharashtra border point) have a 24*7 surveillance teams comprising of health staff and security forces screening each and every person who enters the state.
The District administration is all set to deal with any exigency. The fortunate part of the story is that not a single positive case has been reported here so far. The people are requested to stay home and cooperate with the administration, health workers, policemen deployed on the roads.
All officers/officials, health workers and others are working 24*7 for your safety. You stay indoors for their safety.
Let’s win this war against the invisible enemy
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