Palamu district is situated in North West of Jharkhand and shares its geographical boundaries with Aurangabad District in Bihar. It has a dominant population of tribals and has 21 Administrative blocks and 276 Gram Panchayats. The North Koel River flows across the District. As it is highly plagued by left wing extremism, Palamu is directly monitored by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and receives additional funds under the Special Central Assistance (SCA), amounting to 33Cr. per year for development activities.
As a part of the Transformation of Aspirational District Program (TADP), the district monitors the progress of 49 indicators across the five sectors. In the programme, a number of innovative projects have been initiated to ensure quality services to the last mile of beneficiaries in the District.
Under TADP, Aspirational District Fellows (ADFs) had proposed a project for skill development and livelihood generation for the local people in Palamu under the guidance of Dr. Shantanu Agrahari, IAS., Deputy Commissioner, Palamu. A team of District Administration officials along with ADFs have set up an Industrial Unit with Capacity of 200 Sewing Machine which currently engages 200 Self Help Group (SHG) Women in gainful employment. This Industrial Unit funded through Special Central Assistance (SCA) Fund is named as “Koel Aajeevika Apparel Park (KAAP)”. It is being operationalised by Women SHG (didis/sisters) Federation under the supervision of Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS). Later on, SHG Federation registered the unit as Cooperative Koel Aajeevika Apparel Park, Palamu. These SHG women have been trained to operate sewing machines and produce school uniforms for the government schools. In convergence with the education department, the district has also onboarded KAAP Cooperative to procure order for supplying school uniforms for government schools. It was inaugurated by Former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Sh. Raghubar Das on 30th September, 2019. After the Initial process of institutional capacity building, the employed women were trained in operating High-Tech Industrial Sewing Machines. In order to run this facility with full capacity a fashion designer and Master Trainers were hired for design technical assistance. Over the last three months, the unit had manufactured more than 10,000 school’s dresses. The profit is shared among the SHG Members of the cooperative. As an initial capital back up, the District Administration also facilitated a term loan of `1,000,000 through the State Bank of India to procure raw materials.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, initially the government issued an advisory for preventive action for the people in which social distancing was extremely important. Additionally, the government had also advised the people to use Masks and Sanitisers on a daily basis. The sudden panic among the general public reated a short fall of Masks and Sanitiser in the market. People were also facing a sudden surge in prices of these essentials. The district administration of Palamu sensed the plight of the people and decided to utilise the KAAP facility to contribute to the needs of the common public.
With a proactive approach by district administration, Koel Aajeevika Apparel Park, Palamu was being utilized for protective mask production in a very short duration. Despite the capacity of 200 machines at the unit, only 60 machines were made operational due to social distancing advisory. Initially, the general scare in the public had prevented the women members to come forward in the production centre. As a result, production activities of masks became a huge challenge and only 20 machines were fully operational. After successful training and consultations on COVID-19 and assurances from information related to safety precautions and logistics preparations, the women members agreed to kickstart the production of masks. In this critical situation, these women members zealously worked to produce nearly 50,000 masks within a period of two weeks. Each mask was produced using a three layered cloth stitched together to offer protection against the spread of Coronavirus. After production, these masks were sent to the district hospital for sanitisation and to make them ready to use.
With the initial production of 50,000 masks, the KAAP facility managed to meet the demands in Palamu district. So far, 48,044 masks have been distributed across 21 blocks. Each mask has been sold at a unit rate of Rs. 20 as per the government rate. The women members made Rs. 5 per mask. Each woman was able to produce about 40 to 60 masks a day. The support to procure raw material was offered by JSLPS with investments contributed by the KAAP co-operative. This activity helped to regain the confidence of SHG women and motivated them to support the district administration for masks production in such a critical time. The district administration grasped the opportunity of the KAAP facility and proactively turned it into a masks production centre to show its commitment to cater to the COVID-19 pandemic and meet the demand for masks at a time of crisis. The production has helped to meet the demand of the district timely as well as contributed to the livelihoods of the SHG women members.
In addition to the mask production, the district administration has also spread its wing to Sanitiser production as per the WHO norms. The sanitiser production is undertaken by mixing a certain ratio of Isopropyl alcohol, Hydrogen peroxide and Glycerol. Before the Fellowship program I was associated with start-up of hand Sanitiser production. I sensed the critical time and pitched the idea to produce sanitiser to Deputy Commissioner, Palamu before the lockdown. As lockdown came into place, there was a sudden increase in demand for sanitiser in the market along with a surge in the pricing. The administration agreed to undertake the production of hand Sanitisers through women SHGs. We quickly trained a SHG group of 20 Women in the mixing process of hand sanitiser production and started preparing bottles of 100ml for sale. So far, sanitisers have been distributed across the 21 blocks of 276 gram panchayats. Till date, 15,430 bottles have been supplied to the health department of Palamu. The sanitiser is being sold to the health department at Rs. 30 per bottle of 100 ml with a profit of Rs. 5 per bottle.
The demand for both masks and sanitisers is growing rapidly, with other districts and states also seeking the masks and sanitisers from Palamu district administration. In the next couple of weeks, we are ramping up our production activities to initiate supply to nearer districts.
A proactive approach has helped us to fight this critical situation and avoid panic among the people of Palamu. The effort has been acknowledged and appreciated by State and NITI Aayog in their Tweet, as well.