New Delhi: The administration of Indore, a Covid-19 hotspot in Madhya Pradesh, faced a major crisis days after the city registered its first victim of the pandemic on 22 March: a crippling shortage of government officers.
With just three additional district magistrates (ADMs) and five sub-divisional magistrates (SDM), the administration was finding it increasingly difficult to coordinate efforts to tackle the outbreak in Indore.
After the Covid-19 situation in Indore started escalating, the state government appointed Manish Singh, a 2009-batch IAS officer, as the new district magistrate (DM) of Indore on 28 March.
On 10 April, following a request by Singh, as many as 12 officers were brought in from across the state to aid the fight against Covid-19. Among the 12, two are IAS officers.
Singh had requested for these officers by sending a letter to the state government. He said he asked for these 12 officers as they have extensive knowledge about the city. Some of them have also worked with Singh earlier in various capacities.
“The following are officers who had previously worked or have some connection to the city and therefore know the city well…,” read the letter, seen by ThePrint.
This team of 12 officers has been pulling out all the stops to tackle the pandemic — from enforcing the lockdown strictly, facilitating the quarantine and sampling process, and shifting positive patients to hospitals to barricading and sanitising containment zones, and monitoring the distribution of rations.
Indore is a city the novel coronavirus has hit the hardest in MP. As of Wednesday, it had 586 coronavirus cases, according to Indore Chief Medical Officer Dr Pravin Jadia, while the state’s tally stood at 987.
ThePrint met four of the officers, including DM Singh, to understand the challenges they are facing and how they are coping with the crisis.
Manish Singh, District Magistrate
Singh, who was earlier working as the managing director of the Central Region Power Distribution Company in Bhopal, was brought in to replace District Magistrate Lokesh Kumar Jatav.
Having previously held several positions in Indore, Singh is a familiar name in the district’s administrative circles. In fact, it was during his tenure as the commissioner of Indore Municipal Corporation that the city first got the tag of the country’s cleanest city.
After taking charge as the DM, Singh has played a pivotal role in streamlining the administration’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.
On handpicking of 12 officers, Singh told ThePrint: “I picked officers who had been posted in Indore itself, those who would know Indore and those who the people would (also) know.”
“I had asked for 10-12 such officers and I got them all. Through this, we were able to decentralise the sanitisation work, the containment plan, the supply of food and medical facilities,” he added.
Asked how his days have been since his return to Indore from Bhopal, Singh said, “I’m just trying to ensure that more hospital facilities, supplies are made available and everything is happening more smoothly.”
“I sleep by 1-2 am. Then start taking calls from 6.30-7 am… I try to go out for a walk sometimes but that has also become difficult now,” he added.
Chandramauli Shukla, IAS officer
Shukla was previously serving as the deputy secretary in the Department of Industries in Bhopal.
Like Singh, Shukla is also a familiar face in Indore, where he had earlier served as the CEO of the Indore Development Authority.
“I have 7-8 years of experience here. People generally tend to know me… when he (Manish Singh) was posted here earlier, I was also posted here. We have experience of working together,” Shukla added.
The 2011-batch IAS officer is now overseeing the functioning of the “green” hospitals, which have been designated to treat non-coronavirus patients.
He told ThePrint the biggest challenge he is facing after coming to Indore is to make the “green” hospitals functional.
“The initial focus was only on Covid patients and their management. The normal patients who were not Covid (positive) were forgotten in the entire scheme of things,” he said.
Shukla has managed to appoint about 215 nodal officers at every “green hospital” in Indore to ensure its functioning.
“The shortage of time has been the real challenge. We start work at 8 o’clock in the morning and go back at 10.30 pm. I also take bath outside the house (in office or at other places). This is now a part of the job,” he added.
Vishal Singh Chouhan, ADM
Chouhan has earlier served as the ADM in Rajgarh.
“There weren’t any (Covid-19) cases in Rajgarh. So I was really hoping that I get to come here and contribute. And then I was transferred,” he said.
“What was happening before here is that there was a lack of sufficient officers. So our biggest challenge has been to ensure coordination between everyone,” Chouhan said.
One of the localities Chouhan is overseeing is Tatpatti Bakhal, a hotspot where the city’s first case of Covid-19 was detected.
“We sleep in a hotel. We are out on the field the rest of the time. We can’t even wear PPE (personal protection equipment) suits because we have to go to the office as well,” he added.
Abhay Bedekar, ADM
Bedekar was earlier working under the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) in Bhopal. He has also worked with DM Singh earlier.
“I’ve previously worked with Manish Singh in Nagar Nigam, Bhopal, where he was the commissioner and I was additional commissioner. So we have worked for 4-5 years together,” he said.
Talking about tackling the outbreak in Indore, he said: “In the beginning, the contact-tracing wasn’t done well, but now the situation is coming under control.”
This report has been updated with the correct spelling of Abhay Bedekar.