Bhubaneswar: The Naveen Patnaik administration in Odisha is faced with a daunting task. It is grappling with three major crises all at a time — surge in Covid-19 cases, floods, and arranging transport for 90,000 JEE Main and NEET aspirants.
While the administrations of 20 out of 30 districts in the state are working overtime to monitor the flood situation, evacuate the affected and provide immediate relief in addition to the ongoing work of dealing with the rapid escalation of Covid cases, the task of organising transport facilities for the examinees has become an extra burden for them.
At a time when close to 2 million people are reeling under the impact of the floods, the government is losing its sleep over gearing up its administration to meet the fresh challenge of ensuring transport facilities for the students to take the tests, officials said.
Chief Secretary Asit Kumar Tripathy is, however, confident that the state would handle all the crises.
“In crisis, quick decision-making is imperative. The proven governance model of Odisha thrives on flexibility and ability of district teams to take local level decisions without fear,” he told ThePrint.
The opposition, however, claimed the real picture is different.
Government officials said arranging transport facilities for JEE aspirants was something they were not prepared for, and has proved to be an additional burden for them as they are already overworked because of the pandemic and floods.
“Our entire machinery was totally preoccupied with the task of tackling Covid besides dealing with the problems arising out of the sudden floods, which meant evacuation of a large number of people. Now the task of arranging transport for JEE aspirants has compounded the challenges,” said Sangram Mohapatra, District Magistrate (DM) of flood-hit Jagatsighpur.
The Odisha government had on 28 August announced free transport and accommodation for candidates appearing in the JEE Main, after the Centre declined to postpone it. Similar arrangements have been promised for NEET aspirants too.
All restrictions imposed for Covid were suspended to facilitate the movement of the aspirants from their homes to the exam centres.
The JEE Main, which began on 1 September, will continue until 6 September, while the NEET is scheduled to be held on 13 September.
Officials also said the state government’s directive to the district administrations with regard to arranging transport for the examinees practically gave them no breathing space, catching them off guard. The directive was issued on 28 August, while the exam started on 1 September.
Despite the state government’s claims of effectively handling the pandemic and ramping up testing facilities, Odisha is fast outnumbering other states to become a new hotspot.
Covid is spreading like wildfire in urban and semi-urban areas and is beginning to threaten rural areas.
In the last 24 hours, Odisha reported 3,219 cases and 11 deaths, taking the tally to 1,09,780 cases and 525 deaths. Odisha crossed the 1-lakh cases mark Sunday.
The situation has become so grim that a central team is supposed to visit the state this week to help it strengthen measures to restrict the spread of the pandemic through proper containment plan, surveillance, testing and effective clinical management.
Lack of beds in Covid hospitals and centres has compelled the state government to advise newly infected people to go for home quarantine.
Additional Chief Secretary (CS) of Health Department P.K. Mohapatra, however, said the resources available in the health department have been fully activated and the state government is doing its best.
“We have been in regular touch with private hospitals and roping them in to help fight the pandemic without being exploitative. The government has fixed the charges for such hospitals for treatment of Covid patients,” he added.
The health scenario could worsen this month when flood water will recede, which has already claimed 17 lives so far.
Large-scale water-borne diseases manifesting in flu-like conditions and dysentery will make the jobs of health officials all the more arduous, said a senior officer in the health department.
The flood-hit areas are also facing acute shortage of drinking water.
According to DM Mohapatra, the foremost responsibility of the district administration is to make available drinking water, besides providing relief materials and ensuring social distancing among the evacuees. Only then, the Covid surge can be contained, he said.
At a time when the government workforce, including the health officials, has been complaining of fatigue for their continuous engagement with the pandemic for the last six months, the additional burden of dealing with the aftermath of the floods would definitely prove to be back-breaking for them.
This would mean additional deployment of doctors and paramedics to the flood-affected areas to contain the spread of gastro-related diseases, besides confronting the Covid reality, Additional CS Mohapatra told ThePrint.
Senior Congress leader and MLA Narasingh Mishra, meanwhile, did not agree with the government claims.
“Covid or no Covid… there are government-run hospitals in rural areas without adequate staff and people suffer. Nobody actually highlights the real picture and people believe the government propaganda,” he added.
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