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Are India’s poor social distancing? Niti Aayog to survey over 100 districts to find out

Niti Aayog will conduct surveys every 2-3 weeks and collate results to see if govt messaging on Covid has reached districts and if govt machinery is working at that level.

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New Delhi: Government think-tank Niti Aayog will conduct multiple surveys in 112 districts across the country to assess if the poor and vulnerable are following social distancing like their urban counterparts while India deals with the Covid-19 pandemic, ThePrint has learnt.

According to sources, the survey will have 57 questions to assess if the people in districts understand what social distancing is and are practising it at their homes and in villages.

Some of these questions are — how many members are there in each family, how many rooms are there in each household, is the family following social distancing norms, how are they following it, and are they sanitising their hands frequently?

Other questions will ask if the village is following lockdown orders, if people who have come from outside the district been home quarantined, are health workers such as ASHA and auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) visiting households, if everyone has a ration card and the current state of those associated with MNREGA?

Also read: UP’s ‘Agra model’ under scanner as Covid cases rise, govt says it’s due to increased testing

How districts will be chosen

The surveys will be undertaken through Niti Aayog’s development partners, Tata Trusts and ID Insight, across sample villages and homes in all ‘aspirational districts’.

Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 5 January 2018, the ‘aspirational districts’ programme lists districts that lack key social indicators, which according to Niti Aayog, include health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion and skill development, and basic infrastructure. These factors directly affect the human development index.

Each survey will be held in 16 sample households in a village and will also assess whether the people at these districts have sufficient food, other essential supplies and access to health officials.

The survey will also take into account ASHA and anganwadi workers, village pradhans and health officials.

The responses will be fed into a mobile application.

Also read: Social distancing is a luxury Indians earning just Rs 150 a day cannot afford

What the survey results will mean

The results will be derived from repeated surveys over a period of time, and will arm district magistrates and collectors with important information on how these places function, said government sources.

It will also help the administration gauge if people in these areas are absorbing the central government’s messaging on Covid-19, and their reactions to it, particularly after last month’s massive migrant exodus, the sources added.

A senior Niti Aayog official said that just one survey may not yield the exact results because of the select sample size, but repeated surveys across different surveys will give a fair idea.

“The government’s policies or decisions taken by the government … it is important to see whether they are actually (being) followed or understood by the people on the ground, particularly the poor and vulnerable population in the remotest districts of the country,” the official said.

“With the ground feedback, it will also help the government take a look at the disruptions and other problems affecting people on the ground,” the official said, adding that it could be helpful for other districts also.

Also read: Social distancing is best option against COVID-19 for now, not forever

How the survey helps district authorities 

A communication from Niti Aayog to district administrations, accessed by ThePrint, stated that the mobile phone-based surveys will be repeated every two-three weeks to capture what people are thinking, feeling and experiencing, and get real-time feedback on the various health and welfare policies being implemented.

It further said that it will also help better the “information, education, communication” or IEC activities of the district administration by providing the officials with insights on the “main information channels, comprehension of messages and gaps or barriers to adopting various prevention and control measures”.

The communication added that the surveys will also assist in the identification of Covid-19 hotspots by collecting information on prevalence of risk factors, symptoms and care-seeking practices, and help identify medium and longer-term impacts.

Seeking their contribution or feedback in decision making, Niti Aayog told district commissioners and magistrates that timely summaries and recommendations based on these surveys will be shared with them.

Professor Indranil Mukhopadhyay, public health expert associated with the O.P. Jindal University and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a health rights movement, told ThePrint that while he hasn’t seen the survey, it should take into account if people are getting access to adequate food, healthcare when needed.

“Any scientific survey is welcome as long as it is aimed to understand the hardship faced by people during the lockdown and not just whether they are adhering to the lockdown. For instance, are people able to get adequate food, routine health care, antenatal care, vaccination, dialysis, CVDs, mental health, and other day care and if they have the transport needed to get to a healthcare facility, whether NREGA payments, pensions promised to people are reaching to them,” he said.

“It’s a good thing if the government wants to know these issues and act on them, instead of just assessing if people have understood the seriousness of the lockdown,” he added.

Also read: Social distancing is best option against COVID-19 for now, not forever

The ‘aspirational districts’ programme

Under the ‘aspirational districts’ programme, Niti Aayog aims to transform districts that lag on key human development index indicators.

According to the rankings released in January, Chandauli district in Uttar Pradesh tops the list of aspirational districts, followed by Odisha’s Bolangir and YSR district, formerly known as Kadapa, in Andhra Pradesh.

Additionally, the central government will conduct a tele survey calling up citizens on their mobile phones across the country to enable proper feedback on prevalence and spread of COVID-19 symptoms. This will be carried out by the National Informatics Centre from the phone number 1921.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has been taking regular Covid-19 related feedback from the states, which, in turn, have been taking feedback from the districts.

Also read: India has social schemes for poor in crises like Covid. But it needs a ‘who to pay’ database

This is an updated version of the report

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