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
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.
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
Panchayats can work exactly
in three areas: awareness generation, setting up isolation conditions, and
streamlining social security measures announced by the Central and State
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
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.
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
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