The panel discussion was focused upon the conditions of the Indian villages and to share the insights and experiences of the practitioners located in the respective locations. The panel discussion is a part of an expansive series of discussions themed upon the rural realities of Indian villages in the face of the second wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The discussions are organized by the Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi on 15 May 2021.
The program was commenced by the Assistant Director at IMPRI Ritika Gupta. Followed by these were the opening remarks from Dr Simi Mehta Editorial CEO at IMPRI. The speakers were introduced and the foreground was laid for the conversation to begin in regards to the ground reality of the villages in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar in the Second Wave of the COVID Pandemic from the eyes and experiences of the practitioners.
Opening the conversation, Dr Nalin Bharti, Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Patna, brought to light that the world pandemic of COVID-19 has deeply affected some of the critical issues of human civilization. It is well known that the first wave of the Pandemic and the subsequent nationwide lockdown had a catastrophic effect on the migrant workers and the urban poor.
But the second wave of the pandemic has proved to be different from the first wave thus adding to the previously existing problems, and also bringing up new ones. The second wave of the pandemic has by and large been disastrous in the interior regions of the country that are the villages, where the people are less aware and the health infrastructure is very weak.
It is widely known that the majority of people in India still reside in the rural areas, with a state like Bihar where 94 per cent of the total population still lives in the villages. In the second wave of the pandemic which has struck the rural areas.
The authorities are faced with a multitude of problems that include protecting the people from the spread of the virus and the deaths and ensure the health and employment of the people along with providing mental and economic strength to the masses in these unprecedented times. With this, Dr Bharti prompted the speakers to share their insights and experience on the aforementioned subject.
Next in the discussion was a presentation by Sunidhi Aggarwal, Research Assistant at the Impact and Policy Research Institute. The presentation contained all the valuable statistics on the topic of the second wave, like the infection rate, availability of the health facilities, vaccination drives and the related challenges.
Up next in the conversation was Mrs Urmila Kumari, ANM, UPHC (Urban Primary Health Centre) Edalhatu, Sadar, Ranchi, shared her experiences on the topic, remarking that the second wave has created an atmosphere of terror in the minds of the citizens and it is important to spread awareness regarding the issues. She also emphasized the topic of vaccination and how and why people need to be aware of it. With conviction, she pleaded to the people to fully comply with the rules and regulations that have been directed by the government.
The other panellist Ms Smita Singh, International Health Promotion Expert; Doctoral Researcher at Indian Institute of Technology, Patna stated that it is important to deal with the second wave of the COVID-19 with a social and behavioural science perspective. In continuation, she said that the preventive measures must be taken seriously and the need for the government to invest rightly into the cause.
In this sequence, it is also necessary to honestly assess the efforts made so far regarding COVID. So that we get to know about our failures and work in that direction by making our strategy, only then there will be some hope in this truly horrifying situation.
In this direction, people will have to strongly improve the manner of wearing masks, timely hand hygiene, following physical distance and taking vaccination etc. and also make aware of their scientific health benefits. Therefore, on these aspects, it becomes the personal and social responsibility of all the citizens of the country to play the role of a leader by showing the spirit of cooperation, coordination and welfare from their respective level and fight this global pandemic at the grassroots level.
Smt. Deepika Singh Pandey (MLA- Mahagama Constituency, Jharkhand) while apprised of the situation in the rural areas of her state during the second wave of COVID, confidently expressed her views on various aspects and how the government handled this disaster. A strong and comprehensive strategy has been devised to deal with it.
In this sequence, the vaccination program for people in the age group of 18-44 years has also been officially started from 14th May 2021 in the state of Jharkhand. Describing the ground reality of the horrific situation of this epidemic in the state, she kept her words quite firmly.
At the same time, she told how while discharging her official duties, she is well aware of the health-related issues of the far eastern areas of her constituency and is also providing basic facilities there in this direction. In this sequence, the work of testing, medicines and vaccination etc. is being done in the public, as well as in this era of disaster, food security of the marginalized sections of the society is being ensured through the public distribution system.
Honorable MLA also expressed some concerns as to how it may prove to be a hindrance in controlling this second wave, so efforts in this direction with a precise strategy and commitment are the need of the hour.
In this sequence, the honourable lady MLA supported Dr Nalin and said that at this time we have to proceed with caution, but with strictness. In this context, he gave the example of the districts of East Jharkhand and told how they have set an example by resolving the issues related to migrant and food security properly and simply.
She further states that the policy decisions taken at the right time by the government have been successful to some extent in mitigating the effects of this second wave of COVID. In order not to create a stampede, the government immediately did everything possible to ensure the availability of beds, oxygen, medicines etc. inadequate number of hospitals.
Also, keeping in view the public’s daily needs and employment aspects, the state government first partially implemented the rule of lockdown, so that normal life is not affected. But given the spread of COVID, the government declared a complete lockdown across the state from May 16, 2021.
It is to be known that in this phase of corona in Jharkhand, the sudden death rate had increased and this time its effect was seen more in rural areas. Apart from this, she said that in Jharkhand, due to lack of clear information about the symptoms of COVID and other diseases like typhoid fever etc., confusion prevailed and due to lack of proper treatment, the death toll has also increased in the last months. Apart from this, the situation went out of control due to a lack of proper medical treatment and home-isolation rules and awareness after being infected with COVID.
At the same time, Smt. Deepika Singh Pandey said that she is also active at the private level to ensure that all facilities are available to the public. While sharing the upcoming plans, said that our government is fully committed that several medical pieces of equipment should be available in all the PHS and CHS at the block and panchayat level, because if the rural people get all the facilities at their nearest health centres. If found, they will be able to get fast treatment and there will be no rush and chaos in the hospitals of the cities.
She also shared a statement on the issue of the rural economy and said that as we know that there are not many industries in the state of Jharkhand, so the lower class sections are mainly involved in agriculture, cultivators and construction work etc. At the same time, the government is making tireless efforts that such people should be employed at MNREGA at the panchayat level in their area.
In this sequence, good quality seeds are being made available to the farmers under subsidy from the government initiative so that they do not face the financial burden in this critical period of COVID. Apart from the above-mentioned schemes, under Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), money is being transferred directly into the bank accounts of the people, so that they get monetary strength.
The Honorable MLA further shared some of the challenges faced by her state regarding vaccination and said that:
IMPRI’s study based question, “Will giving a minimum amount of Rs 2000 per month under Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) be a good option?” – Answering this, said that the government’s goal is that in the hour of this disaster People should be empowered to meet their minimum needs, for which help is being provided to the public through the public distribution system and free vaccination etc.
Dr Kushwaha Shashi Bhushan Mehta, another MLA from Jharkhand state, took the discussion forward and shared detailed information about his constituency and the efforts made by the private and state government in the context of COVID-19. He said that a large part of the rural population of Jharkhand state is still residing in forests, for whom access to basic health facilities is undoubtedly a major obstacle. Describing this second wave of COVID-19 as more frightening than the previous, he said that earlier it was limited only in big cities, but now it is spreading badly in rural areas of the country.
At the same time, while accepting the shortcomings and constraints of the health system and other resources, etc., he shared his experience, emphasizing the importance of vaccination and it’s imperative – considering it as the last protection cover. In this sequence, he reiterated the need to comply with all government instructions related to COVID and lockdown, to make people aware of vaccination etc.
Further highlighting the problem of untrained or petty doctors in rural areas, he said that their role and efforts are commendable in this critical situation because they are handling the rural health system to a great extent, so by giving them proper training at the earliest. There is a need to be empowered and recognized and availed of their services and experiences.
Apart from this, the Honorable MLA expressed concern, citing the uncertainty of COVID, how this global problem has badly affected the education system and pushed an entire generation to the back foot of development, which in the coming times will be a challenge for the government. Will prove to be a big challenge. Also, every activity related to human life has been hurt once again by the second wave like agriculture, the problem of misuse of public distribution system etc.
At the same time, he advised people to avoid loss of life by gaining awareness to clear the confusion regarding the symptoms of covid and other diseases.
At the same time, while answering the question of the use of MLA Fund, he made others aware of the ground realities and problems and showed his constant commitment to cooperate with the public with this fund. In this sequence, he is coordinating with civil surgeons in the direction of strengthening health facilities at the village level.
Dr Anamika Priyadarshini (Lead Research (Bihar), Center for Catalyzing Change) mainly described the second wave of COVID in Bihar state as extremely frightening and said that the death figures are shocking compared to last year. By February-March 2021, everyone was convinced about COVID that now it was going to end, but this global epidemic showed its fury in the second phase and once again there posed the question of earning a living in front of the migrant workers on a large scale.
It is to be known that the internal migration of migrant workers has been mainly from the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh (total 37%) of the country, in which the migrant workers of Bihar come second. However, compared to the first phase of COVID, social aversion is being seen on a lesser scale in this phase because the rate of infection has increased suddenly.
Finally, highlighting many other aspects of this wave – the social plight arising out of Covid and the efforts and insensitivity of the Bihar Government (such as – the problem of vacant posts of health workers, the slow process of testing and vaccination and the state-wide lockdown. Non-compliance in strict compliance) also took a dig at many other problems.
Dr Gurjit Singh (State Coordinator, Social Audit Unit, Jharkhand) while appreciating the efforts of the government, especially in the state of Jharkhand, said that one of the important reasons for the second wave of COVID is also that the government has taken steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There was slack in the effort. In this context, there is an urgent need to adopt appropriate behaviour related to COVID, for which it is imperative to make citizens aware from the village level itself.
In this sequence, it is necessary to have a collective commitment of Panchayat, administration and citizen participation so that the rural problems arising in this second wave of Corona (mental health, domestic violence, problems of orphans and employment under MGNREGA etc.) can be prevented at the local level under a proper strategy.
In this sequence, it is necessary to follow the proper guidelines for the people living in home isolation. Apart from this, medical treatment should be done by citizens by identifying the symptoms of COVID-19 without delay and by increasing the speed of testing by the government and getting the correct data of infection rate in that direction.
Dr Sharad Kumari (State Program Manager, Action Aid Association, Bihar and Jharkhand) concluded the last phase of this discussion in a very meaningful way, presenting a very dark side of the rural realities affected by the second wave of COVID 19 in both states shared many aspects. This wave has undoubtedly again created a situation of confusion in front of the working class. Cases of falsification regarding food security and ration cards have come to the fore.
This wave-exposed the medical system of both the states, as a result of which the hospitals in the capital were overloaded. At the same time, even in the circumstances of this crisis, some inhuman cases were seen like hoarding and black marketing of common and COVID related medicines etc. on a large scale.
In the context of rural households, problems of many forms have been seen, such as the unexpected cases of the second wave of COVID have exposed the failure of home isolation before the joint families.
Also, there is a lack of arrangements regarding COVID in primary health centres so far, due to which they have to turn to urban medical centres and there they are being cheated in the name of treatment. In this way, economic and mental exploitation of the villagers is also being done in every way. At the same time, some oppressed sections of the society have also done whatever possible work has been done by putting pressure on the Dalit community to remove them from vaccination, in such a situation it is difficult to say about the behaviour of COVID that it is true. How successful will it be at the social level?
In her statement, while talking about other social, family, economic and mental aspects, she also gave many suggestions, such as the mental and disorientation condition of the children has posed a challenge to the parents. Keeping in mind the possibility of a third wave ahead, she said that from now on, we must make a strategy and work on proper behaviour style related to Covid.
Apart from this, there is an urgent need to take policy decisions under a long strategy towards providing economic stability to both the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, such as the government itself should ensure that based on local resources, how they can do business. Develop so that the basis of a dignified life can be created by protecting the rights of the citizens of the major states.
Further, she also raised the issue of training rural non-professional medical personnel and taking advantage of them. Also, while making an analytical revelation about the dead bodies found in the river Ganges recently, he described aspects of “social customs, poverty and lack of awareness etc”. Similarly, in this period of COVID, women performing social duties associated with cremation also suffered the brunt of the selfish nature of patriarchy. In the end, she concluded her talk by mentioning the contribution being made by her organization.