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A KEY ARSENAL IN RURAL INDIA’S PANDEMIC FIGHT

Ground Realities in Villages- COVID-19 Lockdown

  • With the influx of thousands of migrant labourers into their villages, there is an imminent need to isolate them for at least 14 days.
  • Unfortunately, the houses here, which are often one or two-room dwellings, with an average seven family members to accommodate, are some of the worst places where one can hope to contain the deadly disease.
  • Along with the absence of running water within households, the possibility of common points in village arenas becoming hotspots for this deadly contagion becomes manifold.

Success stories of a few States

  • Notwithstanding the fact that the entire State machinery is now involved in near wartime efforts to contain the spread of this pandemic, only a few States have been able to organically involve their foundational governance structure — i.e. gram panchayats — very effectively and efficiently in this situation.
  • In some southern States with pre-embedded conditions of self-governing and nearly autonomous panchayats, they are becoming the beacons of hope by proactively engaging with citizens at the village level.
  • A case in example is the community kitchens run by local bodies in Kerala, where home delivery of cooked food is spiking as the situation demands.

Significance of Gram Panchayats

  • Many scientists and researchers have already predicted the possibility of villages becoming hotspots of the disease after the 21-day lockdown is lifted. Though geographical spread may be limited, the concentration of the spread may get out of hand.
  • It is here that gram panchayats which are very well placed, and close to their own people with limited resources, can help them in enforcing isolation and making the necessary arrangements.
  • Panchayats can work exactly in three areas: awareness generation, setting up isolation conditions, and streamlining social security measures announced by the Central and State governments.

Reaching out effectively

  • First, a model needs to be established, with concrete standard operating procedures and best practices that can be replicated throughout rural India.
  • Organisations such as Professional Assistance For Development Action (PRADAN) have been trying to influence gram panchayats and district administrations in many States ever since the pandemic.
  • With sustained engagement, they have been able to coordinate with the administration to use the resources of panchayats, collaborate with self-help groups and to set isolation conditions within village premises (with beds, sanitisers, drinking water, cooked meals, etc.) in many interior blocks across the districts in central and eastern India.
  • Involving panchayats — and by observing adequate safety measures — to establish isolation facilities across the length and breadth of the country is the need of the hour.
  • The police cannot reach out to each and every village round the clock because of their inadequate resources.
  • Community policing with the active engagement of panchayats, by collaborating with women’s collectives, is a potential area where a people-led movement can be kick-started in a short time span.

Conclusion

  • A seminal understanding developed is that, without the agency of gram panchayats, it is not possible to deploy any system effectively and to adequately take prompt actions to include the excluded.
  • Reinvigorating panchayats is an unattended area which needs a push in strengthening the arsenal available in this fight against COVID-19.
  • Laying stress on three actions specifically — arranging isolation facilities with cooked meal supply; awareness generation, and finally, ensuring that the most vulnerable have access to the welfare measures announced — is crucial if rural India is to be saved.
  • Thrust is needed from top layer of administration — a direction that will help the nation fight this deadly virus.
  • With enough political will, and a changed perspective of executive machineries, it is totally possible. It is time to unleash the power of panchayats to be with the people and lead this fight
January 2023
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