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Rural Punjab, Haryana 'suffered' during second wave due to restrictions on NGOs

By IMPRI Team  

As the second wave of Covid raged across the country and engulfed the rural spaces of India, a panel webinar organised by the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, on Rural Realities: Punjab and Haryana Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages was told that both the government and the people were accountable for not taking adequate precautions despite warnings.
Sucha Singh Gill, professor, Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Punjab, said, devastating impact due to the poor rural healthcare infrastructure could be seen across the two states, pointing out, a study conducted on this showed that while the infrastructure was in place, there was no manpower in terms of doctors and paramedical staff.
In some instances, medicines were not available, he said, adding, while there was emphasis was on privatization of healthcare in the urban areas, the rural areas suffered. A positive point on the part of the government was to include the third tier of government, the rural panchayats, to combat the pandemic. He appreciated the work of civil society organizations in providing aid and awareness in a situation when the government was not able to manage the situation.
A significant issue overlooked, he underlined, was rehabilitation of families who lost their breadwinners. Only civil society organization, NGOs and religious institutions who took up the mantle, while people overcame bureaucratic incapability through panchayats.
Baljinder Singh Gill, regional manager, Tata Trusts, elaborated upon the increased virulence of Covid and how in rural regions the real issue was lack of manpower. He especially emphasized the rural mindset about Covid wherein there was fear among the communities and hesitancy to get tested. He insisted, the government should focus on community awareness.
Mahabir Jaglan, Professor, Kurukshetra University, Haryana, talked about how through protests in Punjab and Haryana, people from rural regions of Haryana have learnt from their counterparts in Punjab as to how communities can find solutions to their shared struggles. They learned why villages should not isolate themselves and suffer, but instead attempt to use community action as a collective solution.
Amrita Kaur, project coordinator, Mission Deep Educational Trust, Amritsar, shed light on how her organization was working on the education of students hailing from Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. She said, free education and transport facilities were made available to about 500 students. Pick and drop facility was being provided by the organization, wherein students from 12 villages were allowed to travel and get educated.
Dilpreet Singh Gandhi, High Court and Supreme Court advocate, said, he carried out mask langars, recognizing, those less fortunate than him would not be able to afford essential commodities such as masks for their families. He employed tailors and workers from his office and provided them with the requisite material. As many as 27,000 masks were distributed in a very short period.
Gandhi said, young male migrate in search of better jobs. However, with the looming lockdown, these migrants were compelled to return to their hometown villages, where ignorance regarding the situation led to devastating conditions. He added, people from urban areas such as Chandigarh were more cautious and abided by Covid rules which was not the case with rural regions of Amritsar. He held the media accountable for not presenting an accurate picture of the situation on the ground.
He also criticized the decisions of religious institutions which mandated the devotees to remove their masks upon entering in temples. He said, he had written a letter to the authorities of the Golden Temple reminding them of their responsibility to public welfare.
Parvesh Malik, founder, Mission Jagriti, elaborated upon the need to empower organizations and Self Help Groups (SHG) that put theory into practice and impacted the grassroots level. Volunteers from such organizations can be agents of change that motivate and have a substantial impact. In several rural regions of Haryana SHGs and committees have emerged as a response to the pandemic.
Prof Mahabir Jaglan mentioned rural employment in Haryana as a significant cause of concern. He elaborated upon how statistics clearly demonstrated serious nature of the problem and how Covid had further deteriorated the situation, especially in the informal sector. He believes that post-Covid statistics will show that while post the first wave the situation had improved, the second wave had completely halted any improvement in the employment rate.
Prof Jaglan elaborated on how in the second wave, compared to the first, the rural regions in Haryana bore the brunt. He also referred to farmers’ agitation as an example of mistrust developed among the citizens towards the state machinery and their dismissal of Covid as a government strategy for disempowering them.
The government’s focus on urban areas and neglect for the rural areas compounded the problem. Multiple big villages fell victim to the pandemic, and a significant reason was lack of testing, he said, adding, the government’s measures were primarily symbolic. Healthcare infrastructure for rural areas existed but was not been utilized, while new isolation centres with no proper facilities were set up. There was a huge gap between government action and actual change at the grassroots level.
Anjali Makhija said, lack of testing in the rural regions was a significant cause of concern, along with the inability of the people to distinguish between the symptoms of Covid and that of common flu. In this context, she talked of lack of infrastructure and proper equipment. Women were worst affected in the second wave, as they had specific responsibilities to shoulder amidst severe lack of access to healthcare.
Concluding, Makhija highlighted a neglected concern of how smaller organizations don’t often have the necessary permissions and compliances to procure materials from abroad, resulting in them getting in legal troubles.
Prof Gill added, the States need not to be intolerant towards foreign funding and to implement the policy that disregards Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) compliance requirements, at least till the time of the crisis.
Prof Jaglan echoed Prof Gill’s views and talked about eliminating the mistrust between the government and non-profit organizations, given that they are an integral part of civil society and work towards the betterment of society. He also emphasized on the need to rejuvenate the public healthcare infrastructure in rural regions through adequate manpower and provisions of medicines.

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