Authors – Pankaj Jadhav and Satyaki Ganguly
Amidst a sense of uncertainty on the impact of the deadly Covid-19 on the health and the economic situation of the millions, the District Administration of Giridih had no option but to swing into action with full force. A plethora of action started with a short notice and keeping in mind the existing infrastructure. The immediate motive of these activities was to minimize the adversities which were looming on the poor residents of the district. The district had to rely on existing community institutions, formulate a plan of action and in the process involve a diverse range of stakeholders.
Setting up of a task force and a control room
Immediately after the lockdown, Deputy Commissioner (DC) Giridih swung into action and formed various koshangs (sections) such as public health surveillance task force, medical response management task force, supply chain management task force, welfare measures task force etc. These task forces were deputed to perform specific tasks such as ensuring supply of PPE kits, making provisions for food and shelter for immigrant laborers and ensuring strict implementation of lockdown measures. The heads of various departments under deputy commissioner’s office were assigned as nodal officers of the various koshangs (sections). The nodal officers, in charges and the staff working in these koshangs collectively formed a task force.
A control room was created and was staffed with District agriculture officer, District fisheries officer, Assistant district program officer, District mining officer, Executive magistrate, social security cell, Aspirational District Fellows and school teachers. The control room continues to work in four shifts under the above-mentioned officers. The main role of control room is to resolve the complaints received from anyone in the district or anyone from the district who is locked down in other districts or other states. The control room receives the complaints over the helpline numbers issued by DC Giridih, then it coordinates with task forces of related koshangs and explores ways to resolve it. As the time passed, the Aspirational district fellows were mandated to coordinate between the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) and the district administration, and to prepare a containment plan.
As the control room started functioning, an avalanche of complaints started coming in – some 198 calls on the first day. It was observed that the complaints were mostly related to food, shelter and medicines. These complaints were then divided into three categories based on the geographical locale: outside the state, within the state and within the district. It was observed that maximum number of calls were coming from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Also, maximum number of complaints were pertaining to unavailability of food.
At this point there were multiple challenges which had to be sorted out. Initially as helpline numbers of all the districts in India were not published, the challenge was to explore ways of communication with other districts where immigrant laborers from Giridih were stuck. As an immediate response the letters from DC Giridih were sent to the DCs of the districts where immigrant labourers from Giridih were stuck, informing them that these laborers were facing problems of food, shelter, medicines etc. After the letters were sent, most of the DCs took immediate action to resolve the issues of the immigrant laborers.
In Faridabad some 10-12 people of Giridih were locked down and did not have access to food. The control room of Giridih took charge and informed the Faridabad district administration about the situation. After the Faridabad district administration’s intervention, within two hours, food could be provided to this stranded group through an NGO called ‘Seva Ashram’. In Mayurbhanj district in Odisha, around 12 labourers from Giridih were stranded and with no food supply. A letter from DC Giridih was immediately dispatched to DC Mayurbhanj informing the status. Within a short period of time, the issue was resolved and DC Giridih got the message from Mayurbhanj DC that the immediate action was taken and laborers were provided food.
On another occasion the control room, Giridih received a call from an immigrant labourer stuck in Dhanbad. He was crying on the phone. He had taken a room on rent for only for a few days. Now he was stuck in Dhanbad with no money to pay for his rent and the owner was expelling him out. The nodal officer of the control room, Giridih spoke with the owner and informed him about the government order which forbid the owner to expel the renter from the room until the lockdown was over. The owner agreed and the labourer was permitted to live in the rented room.
Community institutions for mass production of masks and sanitizers
One of the immediate crisis that the district administration had to tackle was the shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). There was acute shortage of protection gear like masks and sanitizers. Initially, the District administration tried exploring outsourcing options for filling in the deficit. However, DC Giridih was keen on creating something meaningful in the wake of this pandemic. He aimed at exploring employment generation opportunities in the fight against COVID-19. With this aim in mind, DC Giridih engaged self-help groups (SHGs) – who were otherwise facing a loss of daily wages – in the process of preparing the required protective gear. Hence, with the assistance of the Jharkhand state livelihood promotion society (JSLPS), mass production of masks and sanitizers was taken up by the SHGs. All this was done with strict adherence to social distancing norms and the production was carried on at the household level.
The plan for decentralized mass production of masks and sanitizers through SHGs wasn’t devoid of its share of challenges. There was shortage of availability of clean cloth. There was a problem of identifying of skilled SHG members on an urgent basis, as well as motivating them to stitch masks in a situation of pandemic.
Quality availability of clean cloth was ensured by procuring cloths through some of the local vendors from Giridih and Ranchi. Skilled SHG members were identified by block level program managers of JSLPS within a short time. The identified SHGs were motivated to produce masks by making them understand the importance of their role and comparing it to that of doctors by District program manager (DPM), JSLPS. A monetary benefit was also assured. A SHG member would earn Rs 4 Rs per mask that she would produce.
Till date some 190 SHG members and a total of 80 SHGs have toiled day and night to manufacture more than one lakh masks and 71000 litres of sanitizers. The cost incurred has been borne by the BDOs for their respective blocks. The masks and sanitizers are being transported through vehicles arranged by block program managers of JSLPS. These are being directly distributed to approximately 800-900 identified ration shops and PDS dealers from which these masks and sanitizers are being provided to the general people.
A Containment Plan in advance
Although the district is yet to experience its first positive case of COVID-19, the District Administration has meticulously come up with a containment plan, in anticipation of any eventual occurrence.
The District Administration never having faced a medical calamity of such gigantic and life-threatening proportions, decided to invest some time in understanding, researching and gaining insights from the guidelines on preparation of micro plan by ministry of health and family welfare. Accordingly, the high-risk areas with the maximum chance of exposure, based on a pile of closely monitored suspected cases were charted down, following which, the division of the wards into smaller zones for easy governance and implementation, of the decided upon measures was also undertaken. Subsequently, after coordinating with the respective BDOs, Rapid response teams (RRTs) were assigned for the various zones, keeping a constant check on the overall preparedness level of the district in case of any outbreak of the virus.
The district faced an unprecedented challenge. Now the district has an active control room constantly receiving and fixing complaints. The task-force is handling the everyday situations and accessing potential challenges by collaborating with various stakeholders across the district and the state. Most daily wage workers who faced a loss of livelihood have been effectively employed to produce masks and sanitizers. Further discussions are underway to come up with other opportunities to employ them. In addition, medical facilities to tackle the spread of the virus are being provided. Therefore, the Giridih District under the administration of its Deputy Commissioner, is sufficiently prepared to deal with an outbreak.