– Divya Tewari and Varun Sharma, Lohardaga, Jharkhand
Background of the District
District Lohardaga, which acquired the status of an independent district in 1983 after being carved out of Ranchi, is one of the smallest districts in Jharkhand by area. Divided into 7 administrative blocks, 87.6% of the district’s population resides in rural areas, 57% of population belonging to tribal communities.
The inhabitants of the district depend mainly on agriculture, forest produce, and seasonal migration to different parts of the country for their livelihood. Agriculture provides employment to around 90% of the population. However, being mostly rainfall dependent, a majority of the farmers are able to harvest only one crop per year. Expectedly then, Lohardaga is also one of the poorest districts in Jharkhand. A significant proportion of the Lohardaga population migrates to places as far as Kerala and Tamil Nadu for work.
The Corona outbreak was a bolt from the blue for most people across the entire world. No one, be it the government, the healthcare system, or the people in general, had anticipated that something of a scale as massive as this pandemic could ever happen, something that would send all systems and institutions across the world into a complete tizzy.
While some amongst us had the resources to cushion the blows that were inflicted as a consequence of the outbreak, such as job losses, increased prices of essential commodities, and necessitation of the use of masks, hand washes, and sanitizers to stay safe, a very significant proportion of the population was left to grapple with a Pandora’s box of troubles opened up by the pandemic, with no help at hand. Many of these people were daily-wage earners, and with their sources of livelihood wiped out, they were in the midst of grave existential issues.
Response of District Administration, Lohardaga
Realizing the gravity of the situation, District Administration, Lohardaga hastily set up a ‘Corona Control Room’, with Aspirational District Fellows (ADFs) assigned a key role in the functioning of the team. 9 people, apart from the ADFs, were grouped into teams of 3, and assigned 8-hour daily duties, to create a helpline center that was operational 24*7, and on which people could call on for any kind of support. The helpline numbers were circulated widely, over WhatsApp and Facebook, and by advertising in daily newspapers, and slowly, complaints started pouring in from all across the country. These ranged from issues such as non-availability of food for even the next meal, to not having the money to buy essential medicines, to being stranded in another state without food and shelter and with no knowledge of the local language, to even domestic violence.
As soon as the Control Room Team receives a complaint, it categorizes the complaint based on the course of action that needs to be taken. Complaints that can be resolved quickly through intervention on part of the Administration are forwarded to the concerned department heads, the ones that can be resolved at a faster pace through NGOs and civil society organizations are passed on to them, and other cases are taken care of directly by the Deputy Commissioner, Lohardaga. On an average, the resolution time for the complaints has been around 24 hours, and the Corona Control Room receives an average of 15 complaints each day. In addition, complaints are received directly from the state, from the police helpline number, the Labour Superintendent, and on a separate state helpline number.
Stories of Hope
Some of the heart-wrenching complaints that the Control Room received, and helped resolve are elaborated upon here. Solving such issues, and ensuring that no one is deprived of at least their fundamental needs has been the biggest motivation behind the round-the-clock work that the Control Room Team has been doing for the past many days, without taking off days even on Sundays.
(1) Stranded Migrant Workers find a New Home with Food and Water, courtesy District Administration, Lohardaga
The District Control Room, Lohardaga received information about 22 persons who were stranded in Wardha (Maharashtra). When a call was made to one of these 22 people to assess their needs, it was found that their situation was very dire. They had no food to eat, and their kuchha house had been washed away because of the rains. What was most appalling, however, was what the man told next. Since drinking water was not available, these men would walk around a kilometer to a drain, get the drain water, boil it, filter it, and then drink it.
On hearing the details of the issue, the Control Room Team sprang into action. Local contact persons were identified in Wardha. After multiple to-and-fro conversations, within a day, the 22 persons had been moved into tin-accommodations, been given food, as well as access to water, with the help of the Panchayat members of that area. Everyone in the Control Room Team felt proud as well as motivated that they’d been able to provide timely help to people caught up in such a desperate situation.
(2) District Administration, Lohardaga Come to the Rescue of a Mentally-challenged lady being Abused by her in-laws
A person lodged a complaint in the District Control Room, Lohardaga about his mentally-challenged sister who was being beaten by her husband, as well her in-laws. Additionally, since the sister’s husband was a laborer and had no money on account of the lockdown, she was not getting her daily dose of medications that were very important to keep her mental health stable.
The Circle Officer of the block was informed immediately, who visited the house of the lady, and spoke to her husband and her in-laws, and warned them against hitting her.
The list of medicines that the lady was supposed to take on a daily basis was passed on to the Block Development Officer of the relevant block, and medicines were arranged for her on priority.
(3) Rations Provided to Stranded Migrants in Far-Flung Kerala though Intervention of NGO, Sarvahitey
Information was received about 40 persons from Jharkhand whose company had shut down because of the lockdown. These people were stranded in Kerala without any food to eat. Since they did not speak/understand the local language, they had been finding it difficult to get any kind of help.
On hearing about the plight of these people, the officials in the ‘Corona Control Room’ connected with an NGO, Sarvahitey, which agreed to deliver rations to these 40 persons. Later, the NGO found that another 10 persons were stranded along with these 40 persons. The very next day, food was delivered to them, and the ‘Corona Control Room’ received a call in a chirpy voice, thanking them for helping out.
(4) District Administration, Lohardaga Becomes the Saviour for 26 Sex-Workers
The Corona Control Room received information about 26 sex workers in Ranchi who had no food to eat, and were not being able to get help from any other source. They informed the team that even though they were not from Lohardaga, they were in a terrible situation, and desperately needed help. The Control Room identified a list of NGOs, and sought help from them. Within 2 days, one of these NGOs agreed to help out, and in another 2 days, food was delivered to their place, to help them tide over the situation.
While the pandemic has brought immense misery into the lives of innumerable people, the synergy with which the government, civil society organizations, NGOs, and individuals have worked tirelessly, each to the best of their capacity and abilities, has proved to be a thick, dense silver lining. The Corona Control Room Team continues to receive at least 10 complaints each day, which are expected to spike, given the increase in the lock-down period. The ADFs continue to juggle multiple tasks such as tracking and database management of all travelers, preparation of reports for the state, attending to and resolving issues of the people, raising funds, and raising food material. Hopefully, the coming few days shall be smoother, and soon, the pandemic will be behind us!