When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the Rajnandgaon administration in Chhattisgarh sprang into action to limit the spread of Covid-19 in the district. The manner in which the administration has handled the situation since the detection of the first Covid positive case on March 24, 2019 in Rajnandgaon is commendable.
The district administration has struck a balance between imposing restrictions in movement, tracing and treating Covid patients, and providing support provisions such as food and shelter to those in need. The administration’s planning during the lockdown was innovative and has proved to be effective.
A very detailed community surveillance form has been designed by the health department. It is being used in door-to-door surveys by various frontline workers in towns and villages of Rajnandgaon to trace people with travel history, and those who display symptoms.
Rajnandgaon has 1,765 quarantine centres with a total of capacity of 50,000 patients. A 160-bed Covid-19 hospital equipped with the required facilities has also been prepared for the treatment of Covid positive patients.
Doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers and lab experts have been working relentlessly towards the agenda of early protection, early identification, early diagnosis and early isolation. They have been ably supported by the police, who are working tirelessly to ensure that restriction measures are implemented. Sanitation workers are working intensively to ensure hygiene and cleanliness of all frontline staff like the Mitanins and Anganwadi workers, who are ensuring a steady supply of rations to the people.
Quarantine centres for pregnant women
Mahtari Sadans — quarantine centres setup especially for pregnant women — have proved to be one of the most effective measures adopted by the district administration. These centres have proved to be a boon for migrant labourers returning from other states. Nutritional food, screening facilities and protective gear are available at the centre, which is sanitised three times a day, with medical personnel deployed round-the-clock. As of now, the district has eight Mahtari Sadans.
Helpline and relief camps for stranded workers
To date, a total of 8,000 workers from Rajnandgaon have been found to be stranded in other districts. The district administration has established a helpline number to track workers native to Rajnandgaon and stranded in other states. Most are in states such as Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. A team of officials from the labour department and the Zila Panchayat has been formed to regularly follow up with the labourers calling on the helpline number.
At the end of every day, a list of these workers is sent to the district administrations where these labourers are stranded, along with their location and the issues they are facing, such as lack of access to essentials. The helpline team set up in Rajnandgaon for these labourers then contacts the migrant labourers to confirm if they have received the help from the local administration. Many workers stranded in places such as Hyderabad, Indore and Bengaluru have received food and groceries within 24 hours of sending letters to their respective district administrations, which were sent by the District administration of Rajnandgaon.
A total of 48 relief camps have been set up by the labour and tribal departments across Rajnandgaon to accommodate and provide food and other essentials to workers from other states such as Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Telangana.
Clearly defined responsibilities
One of the major components of the micro-plan developed in Rajnandgaon to combat Covid-19 was to clearly define the responsibilities of various functionaries.
The Asha, ANM and Anganwadi workers
At the ground-level, ASHA workers, ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) and Anganwadi workers are playing a pivotal role in identifying and reporting potential Covid cases. This group of frontline workers is also creating awareness within the community about disease prevention, need for home quarantine, common signs and symptoms of Covid-19, and the need to report suspect cases. This awareness campaign is undertaken by distributing fliers, pamphlets and also through interpersonal communication.
Additionally, the National Service Scheme and National Cadet Corps volunteers available in the district were also engaged in briefing people on their responsibilities, prevention and control practices. Anganwadi workers are the real unsung heroes in this combat against Covid-19. They have ensured timely delivery of the take-home ration across the district. They are also providing hot cooked meals to children and mothers to avoid disruption of feeding under the nutrition programme.
Self-help groups taking the lead
In the face of this extraordinary challenge brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, self-help groups of the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) have risen to the occasion. The district witnessed a shortfall in Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as masks and sanitisers. In order to address this shortfall, the district administration involved the SHGs to locally manufacture masks and sanitisers. A total of 109 SHGs have been involved in the production and distribution of nearly 2,00,000 masks.
The district’s municipal department has distributed these masks through local medical and grocery stores. The sale of the masks, which have been priced at Rs 12, ensures a profit margin of Rs 5 goes to the SHG members. Production of masks has proved to be a good source of revenue generation for these SHG members in this time of crisis.
The SHGs are also running community kitchens, campaigns fighting misinformation about Covid-19, and even providing banking and financial solutions to far-flung communities. These women — many of whom escaped poverty through the SHG route and know what it is like to be destitute and poor — are living up to their motto of self-help and solidarity. Being closest to the ground, the SHGs have been helping the district administration identify pockets of hunger and starvation, so that steps can be taken to ameliorate them. With huge numbers of informal workers losing their livelihoods during the lockdown and food supply chains getting disrupted in some areas of the district, the community kitchens are playing an important role in providing food for the hungry.
Since access to finance is critical for people to sustain themselves during the lockdown, SHG women, who also work as banking correspondents, are trying to provide financial solutions to far-flung communities. Deemed as an essential service, these bank sakhis are providing doorstep banking services, in addition to distributing pensions and providing credit to the needy. About 50 per cent of the customers are women. The SHG federation consisting of 50 bank sakhis has taken Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-based banking services to over 10,000 households across Rajnandgaon.
The past few weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown and the battle against the pandemic has given administrators an entirely new perspective on how to deal with crisis situations. It is not just ruthless containment that is proving to be effective, but a fine balance between protection measures (such as curfew, containment, tracing treatment) and supportive measures (universal PDS, SHG-run community kitchens, decentralised production of PPEs) are the twin pillars of Rajnandgaon’s approach to combat the coronavirus spread and its adverse effects on communities.
The author is the District Collector of Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh. Views are personal.
This article is part of the series ‘Districts Fight Covid’ that explores how India’s district magistrates and collectors have been fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Read all articles here.