Odisha faring well in coronavirus war, but Naveen Patnaik dispensation needs to make renewed push on migrant, tribal welfare
While Odisha may not be among the richest states in the nation, the Naveen Patnaik dispensation has a history of showing resourcefulness and pro-activeness in tackling disasters
After the coronavirus spread to more than 150 countries and the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic, India, like many other nations, adopted lockdown and social distancing from 24 March. Restrictions were put in place, factories closed, inter and intra-state transport shut down and citizens advised to stay home to break the chain of the spread and flatten the curve.
While Odisha may not be among the richest states in the nation, the Naveen Patnaik dispensation has a history of showing resourcefulness and pro-activeness in tackling disasters. The state government, as per Government of India action plan for cluster containment, formed the State Crisis Management Committee/ State Empowered Committee with the Chief Secretary as the Chairman.
In view of the emerging situations, the Information Education Communication (IEC) activities relating to COVID-19 were released to all the District Collectors to ensure wide dissemination of correct information on COVID-19 and its necessary precautions as its major component.
The government circular on mandatory registrations on person returning from abroad was released on 16 March. Guidelines for private health care facilities and technical guidelines for quarantine, isolation and treatment were also released on 19 and 20 March respectively.
A dedicated telemedicine helpline (14410) is also going to be launched in the state for which 300 doctors have already come forward to provide voluntary services. Patnaik has also assured minorities that strict action will be taken against anyone communalising the situation, an important gesture considering the fake news that has targeted Muslims relating to the Nizamuddin Markaz incident in Delhi.
Odisha has also recently ramped up its testing. From 1 February to 31 March, only 584 tests had been conducted. However, 2,639 tests have been conducted from 1 April to 9 April. Odisha, when it comes to the number of the states conducted, is still ahead of bigger states like West Bengal (where 1,657 tests have been conducted as of 8 April).
While Odisha's death rate (2.38 percent) is higher than states such as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala (which has done an exemplary job in fighting the virus), these states have much higher numbers of confirmed cases.
While the Odisha government has done well thus far, keeping in mind the spread of the pandemic and number of tribals and poor people in the state as well as migrant population to Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu (all these states except Chhattisgarh have high a number of cases), the state government needs to be on its toes and focus on a few key points:
1. Focus on PVTGs: Of the 75 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, the highest number are in Odisha. Some of the characteristics of the PVTGs are zero or negative population growth, extremely low level of illiteracy. The state is home to the Dongoriyas, Bonda. The groups were listed as PVTGs by the Dhebar Commission during the fourth five-year plan.
The Odisha government should ensure that no PVTG families are left out of the social safety net. These groups have their own dialects and a majority of them speak and communicate in that dialect. Government should recruit community cadres who are able to disseminate the correct information and awareness in the local language. The Public Distribution System should be strictly monitored in these areas as the extra benefits that have been announced in may not reach this population and unawareness may lead to inaccessibility. The state should also use the PVTG development authorities/agencies like Dongoriya Kondh Development Agency (DKDA) efficiently to help these vulnerable sections.
2. Focus on migrant population: The Odisha government must ensure safe return of the migrant population. As per a recent report in in Hindustan Times, a migrant worker cycled over 1,000 kilometres from Maharashtra to Odisha in a week. Odisha must work with other states to bring people who migrate for contractual labour home.
3. Empower front line workers: Odisha has a very smooth running Integrated Child Development Services system. Anganwadi and Accredited Social Health Activist workers should be empowered in order to cover the population in remote villages.
4. Focus on malnutrition: Malnutrition has been always a major issue for Odisha. The state government as well as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been constantly working on this issue for years.
A robust mechanism should be put in place to ensure that the families of the children with malnutrition (severely underweight or severely wasted) do not fall out of the social safety net. These children will need State intervention to survive. Civil society groups should be included in the government's action plan for manpower, co-ordination and support.
5. Removing stigma: After the lockdown ends, the return of the migrant population may be inevitable. Government of Odisha should work efficiently, and gram panchayats need to be effectively oriented on removing the stigma attached to their return.
6. Focus on the people working in steel and mining companies: On 24 March, Odisha government gave the green signal towards the operations of mines for iron ore, coking coal, thermal coal, limestone, dolomite, manganese, chromite as well as ferroalloys, iron ore pellet plants which are supply critical raw material for steel making.
The government should ensure that the labourers or the working class employed in these sectors are not adversely affected. There should be strict monitoring of these factories by the respective district administrations and should provide assurances to the working class that the administration and the state is concerned about their rights.
Odisha is doing well in its fight against the coronavirus thus far and a renewed focus on vulnerable sections such as migrants, children with malnutrition and the working class, could see it prove to be a model for the entire country.
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