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Rural UP: Not just RTPCR, even antigen facility 'not available' in a radius of 20-25 km

By IMPRI Team 

A panel discussion on the working experiences of various professionals especially in the wake of the second wave of Covid in Indian villages, organized by the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, and the Parmarth Sevi Sanstha focused on rural reality of Uttar Pradesh and related issues.
Initiating the panel discussion Prof Amita Singh, chairperson, Napsipag Centre for Disaster Research, Delhi, formerly with the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), asked the interlocutors for discussion mainly around two aspects.
1. What work has been done by the government of UP in view of the second wave of Covid and what could have been done better. It was seen that in some areas the government capacity was good, but then its satisfactory results were not visible, so analysis should be done to find out what should be the reason that these capabilities of the state government proved to be ineffective.
2. Why the participation of various civil and community organizations and other non-governmental organizations of the society was not elicited by the state government and what were the important obstacles in this regard.
Lenin Raghuvanshi, founder and CEO, People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), Varanasi, shared his personal experiences, stating that this global pandemic has badly affected the marginalized sections.
He questioned the political will of all the ruling politicians during the Covid period. They refused to selflessly help every section of the society, Dalit, women, Muslim etc., by rising above caste and caste prejudices. There was an utter lack of health facilities and food security.
He stressed on the need for awareness related to testing and prevention and vaccination to remove misconceptions related to the epidemic among the rural people, even as appealing to social and civic organizations to come forward to make necessary intervention.
Dr Hira Lal, IAS, and adviser, Model Village, emphasized on the priorities of the rural areas of the state, stating, the concern of the government is to get rid of the problem of hunger by giving financial assistance to the poor.
At the same time, he said, during in the second wave, saving the poorer sections from the economic crisis and public participation of all the stakeholders of the society was the need of the hour. Preparations should be made for the third wave so damage is minimal in future. Citing the concept of Model Village, he underscored on the need for public participation and supportive dialogue of various community organizations, and empowering Indian rural population.
Sandeep Abasaheb Chavan, who is with the Tata Trusts, Gorakhpur, and is a homoeopathic doctor, spoke about the plight of health in rural areas, pointing to how there was a sudden increase in the spread of cases among the people in the second wave. The main reasons were – people refused to accept Covid symptoms, nor did they get proper investigation and initiative towards prevention. The result was, up to 20% of the families in Gorakhpur were badly affected.
He said that there was lack of general testing kits and its diagnosis even at the block level. Not just RTPCR, even antigen testing facility was not available in a radius of 20-25 km. Meanwhile, people were in a denial mode.
Saurabh Lal, CEO, Model Village, expressed concern about the second wave, stating people had lot of misconceptions about the pandemic, especially about testing, prevention and vaccination etc. He acknowledged that there was lack of basic infrastructure at the village level.
Neelam Verma, state coordinator (UP), Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS), cited government policies and inaction stating these were the main reason for the rise of the second wave of Covid in the State. Following the recent panchayat elections, there was an increase in death figures, especially of teachers. As a result, there was an atmosphere of fear. There was complete lack of social cooperation.
Dr Sanjay Singh, secretary, Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, Jhansi, said UP appeared to bear the brunt of the global calamity during the second wave. There were three reasons for this:
1. Villagers did not take the second wave seriously and remained worry free.
2. The problem of migrant labour struck the rural economic structure.
3. The dependence of the people of the villages on the parasitic doctors coupled with doubts regarding testing, prevention and vaccination related to Covid.
4. Religious and social orthodoxy in the rural population created an atmosphere of fear, with death rate increasing drastically.
Khalid Choudhary, regional manager (UP), Action Aid India, said that the second wave brought into sharp focus health crisis in the State. The wave proved to be heart-wrenching for the rural areas in many ways – increase in cases after panchayat elections, inappropriate Covid behaviour and underestimation of its consequences by rural people.
Between 60% and 70% cases were confined to Purvanchal and Bundelkhand regions of the state. There was lack of proper testing system, non-availability of oxygen. There was an increase in death toll. The state government’s figures and records didn’t match, he said.
There is an urgent need for the state government to coordinate with socio-religious organizations for awareness of developmental issues like public health and education. The economic condition of the underprivileged sections of UP, especially the Mushahirs, weavers, migrant workers, etc., was worrying, and they need to be targeted, he added.
At the same time, he said, it is not entirely appropriate for the state government to confine to announcing only 5 kg of food grains. The government needs to make a realistic assessment of the condition of the migrant labourers in order to ensure food security. They should be provided with jobs under MGNREGA as an alternative means of employment.
The problems of children, especially their mental health, needs attention, he said, as there is an environment of uncertainty with regard to education of rural children. Only 12-15% of people avail of online facility, hence 85% fall in the category of the deprived classes, he said.
To solve all these problems, it is imperative that the State government work in collaboration with the various stakeholders of the society – civil society, journalists, academics etc. without any discrimination, he insisted.
Saurabh Singh, chief functionary, Inner Voice Foundation Community Arsenic Mitigation and Research Organization (CAMRO), explained the operational work (free distribution of food and medicines) being done through his organization in order to help food security of the slum dwellers and other deprived sections like beggars etc. Hunger emerged as a basic problem in Varanasi and Chandauli areas of the state.
At the same time, he said, caste-based political decisions of the state government restricted the reach of government schemes to certain sections.Both urban and rural areas of the state were badly troubled by the second wave, and only some influential people of the society were getting benefits. Worse, the government failed to give proper recognition and support to the NGOs, which struggled to serve the poor with limited resources.
Fear was rife in the rural areas. Government statistics of death of teachers across the state following the panchayat elections were misleading – the government at one point said, only three teachers had died of corona.
While discharging the fundamental duties of the governance system, the State government should proceed in harmony with village public committees and heads, while playing the role of a responsible, accountable and transparent body, he said. Also, the State government should adopt a collaborative approach with NGOs.
Vivek Awasthi, executive director, UP Volunteer Health Association, said, the horrors of Covid that prevailed in the villages of the state affected normal life, exposing government helplessness. There was top-down approach of administrative policies, which suggested lack of proper planning.
Prof Amita Singh concluded by outlining several important issues:
  • The government has sufficient resources, but there is a lack of political will for proper implementation. Condemning repeated gimmicks by politicians, Prof Singh said that it is only a useless tactic to divert the attention of the public from basic issues. The allocation of government funds does not appear to be used at the grassroots level.
  • Unresponsive character of government governance system – government is not able to explain how it implements government schemes.
  • Are the marginalized sections of the society getting the benefits of medical facilities in the health sector or not? In this direction, the state government will have to introspect and focus on social transformation by rising above caste and party politics.
  • At the same time, there is a need to strengthen the ethics and integrity of public servants in the governance system as they play the role of real service providers at the local level.
  • The State government needs to take a policy decision as soon as possible by involving opposition parties and playing a cooperative and coordinating role in the interest of the State.
  • In all rural areas, arrangements should be made for persons with symptoms of Covid at a designated place for quarantine/isolation etc. by putting up tents and equipped with all basic medical facilities with government efforts.
  • In order to prevent Covid, the government should decide on basic medical facilities (free availability of soaps for hand hygiene) and free distribution of food (on the lines of Amma Canteen in Tamil Nadu).
  • The State government needs to establish a liaison between the panchayats and the State Disaster Management Authority so that the accountability of the government can be fixed in real terms. If the State Disaster Management Authority is dormant, it needs to be revived.
Meanwhile, in view of the third wave, the government can issue a white paper to decide the commitment of its future plans.

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