How Kondagoan became the top-performing district in Chhattisgarh during Covid crisis

District Collector Puspendra Kumar Meena writes about the relief camps, SHGs and the Van Dhan scheme that are helping Kondagaon fight the Covid crisis and slowing economy.

Puspendra Kumar Meena, District Collector of Kondegaon, Chhattisgarh | Illustration by ThePrint team

When the nationwide coronavirus-induced lockdown was still a week away, the district administration of Kondagaon, Chhattisgarh had already begun taking necessary steps towards minimising the adverse impacts of Covid-19. Although Kondagaon is thinly populated (75 persons per sq km as compared to Chhattisgarh’s average of 189 persons per sq km), transmission of the virus could never be ruled out as the National Highway 30, which connects the two major cities in Chhattisgarh — Raipur and Jagdalpur — passes through the entire length of the district.

The district administration (DA) initiated basic precautionary measures such as social distancing, working in shifts, availing masks, sanitisers and hand wash for government officials. It also started raising public awareness about Covid-19 through the ground staff of various departments in March. Every department was instructed to educate people on safety measures, symptoms, share contacts and helpline numbers through word-of-mouth, loudspeaker announcements and various online platforms.

Since then, three major novel initiatives have been undertaken by the DA — establishing labour relief camps, manufacturing Covid-19 protection essentials like soaps and masks, and Van Dhan Yojana.

Labour Relief Camps

The inward migration of workers is an easier situation to handle than outward migration. The former at least have a place to go to after returning to their home state. However, in the case of the outward migration, workers neither have a roof over their head, nor basic necessities, because they belong to districts or states far away. This was the reason it was easier to handle inward migration, as the percentage of workers from outside Chhattisgarh working in Kondagaon was less than 20 per cent of those from the district who were stuck outside Chhattisgarh.

The lockdown also dried up their earning potential. In order to minimise the hardships faced by this vulnerable section of the population, the DA in Kondagaon established 14 labour relief camps. Workers identified by the labour department continued to stay here throughout the lockdown period without having to worry about shelter, food, water or the risk of being infected by the coronavirus.

The camps are operated through the cooperation between multiple departments, including Food & Drug, Health, Municipality & Education, National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) and Labour. Responsibilities have been divided as follows: Food & Drug department is in charge of food and water arrangements, the health department provides medicines, municipality and education departments set up camps and infrastructure like beds. The NRLM is in charge of essential supplies such as masks, gloves, soaps, and all necessary Self-Help Group (SHG) products that come handy. The labour department provides a list of workers, basic amenities in the camp, constant updates, and takes care of monitoring and maintenance.

These relief camps have been a ray of hope for workers from states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Manufacturing Covid-19 protection essentials

In the wake of the pandemic, limited stocks and supply of masks and soaps posed an immediate challenge in the district. The DA came up with a model using Cluster Level Federations (CLFs), with technical guidance from the NRLM and Food & Drug departments. The NRLM is capable of carrying out production activities through its SHGs, along with necessary procurement as per demands generated by the surveys conducted by the Food & Drug department. The surveys were conducted by drug inspectors in medical stores, by the Chief Municipal Officer in houses under quarantine, by Block and Gram Panchayats among staff and visitors in Panchayat offices, by MGNREGA workers in local provision stores, and by the forest department.

Out of the CLFs in each block, one model CLF has been identified and the SHGs in that particular CLF have been assigned the task of manufacturing soaps and masks as per the demands. Raw materials are procured by the NRLM through the Vyaapaari Mandal (merchants’ association) in the district. Apart from this, any other expense incurred is taken from the SHGs’ revolving fund (RF), and community investment fund (CIF). Demands are estimated on a daily basis and production follows accordingly.

A total of over 2,50,000 masks and 15,000 soaps have been manufactured till June, with the involvement of 140 SHGs, involving 249 members. The cost of a mask and soap is set at Rs 10 and Rs 15 respectively. The source that places the order takes care of the supply chain. The SHGs have catered to orders worth nearly Rs 19 lakh, which has served as a source of income during this testing time.

Van Dhan Yojana

Utilising existing schemes to improve the situation at hand is always a better way to strengthen systems. More so at a time when diverse sources of income have dried out. The DA of Kondagaon focused on a scheme that would yield incomes — the Van Dhan Yojana.

The scheme deals with the collection of vanopaj (forest produce like imli, chaar, mahua) by forest dwellers, which are then procured by the forest department. The collectors get paid for the product s/he sells. The forest department has identified the three types of collection points and allotted an SHG to each one of them. They are villages with considerable vanopaj, local haat/bazaars and Van Dhan Kendra.

Usually, the payment would take longer to reach the villagers. But now, the DA, with support from the forest department, makes instant payments to the SHGs for their products. This initiative has been a boon for villagers at the time of lockdown, and has provided people with financial aid. As a result, the district of Kondagaon has been the top performer within Chhattisgarh.

The district administration of Kondagaon has put its best foot forward in order to contain the pandemic, with a major focus on minimising the effects of the pandemic on the lives of people. Humanitarian values have been the topmost priority in this crisis. The DA shall now focus on enhancing livelihood opportunities in the district, along with continued measures against Covid.

Source: The Print