In continuation with the ongoing discussions on Rural Realities around the country, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organised a panel discussion on ‘Rural Realities | Goa | Practitioners’ Experience in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages’ on May 28, 2021, as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic engulfs the length and breadth of our country, hitting the heartland of our country, i.e. its rural region.
Giving a snapshot of socio-economic condition of Goa and the current pandemic situation in the Union Territory, a presentation was given by IMPRI researchers Swati Solanki and Mahima Kapoor. They informed the participants about the state’s geographical and socio-economic status and gave insight into the situation of Covid-19 in India and Goa, highlighting pertinent emerging issues.
Moderating the session, Dr (Advocate) Albertina Almeida, Lawyer, Human Rights Activist, Goa, talked about the differentials in the Covid-19 impact in the state. She said:
Rural does not means simply rural areas, but also rural reach, the rural poor, rural disabled and rural women.
She stated that different sections of the rural population have been impacted differently in the current pandemic crisis. It is important to look at how the government is responding to Covid-19, but also it is equally important to see the health consequences in terms of other indices leading to comorbidities. Also, under the cover of Covid-19, there are lot of macro projects being sanctioned while suppressing the freedom of speech of citizens and should be looked down upon.
The pandemic has given us wide-ranging issues — from a lack of access and basic information about Covid in rural areas to unorganised testing facilities, and unavailability of medicines and oxygen. There also exist issues of accessing basic livelihood facilities during the pandemic in the state. She said that the situation in Goa is pretty alarming with a high positivity rate for a long time. There also exist implications of post-Covid issues on people who have recovered from the pandemic. The state has to improve access to health facilities to the most vulnerable sections of society.
She further said that Goa, being a tourist state, has not been able to curtail cross-border movements of tourists. The government failed in dealing simultaneously with the economic and health perspective, worsening the pandemic situation in the state. Highlighting the failure of coordination level among various authorities, she said that Covid is dealt under National State Disaster Management Authority due to its declaration as a pandemic. With bureaucracy at one level and health infrastructure at another, there seems to be no appropriate coordination between the two; the two authorities were always blaming each other for any inefficiency. She said:
Dr Maria Aurora Couto, Indian Writer and Educationalist from Goa, highlighted the pandemic situation in the state. She said that it is important to strengthen local bodies to reach up to village level in order to create awareness among people regarding the pandemic. She emphasised on the the need for precautionary measures,
Mr Kumar Kalanand Mani President, Peaceful Society, Goa, said that it is sad and painful to see that the beautiful Goa, not only in terms of nature but also in terms of society, people and governance — has been ruined. Having seen the course of 14 months of imprisonment in the name of Covid management, he said that he has not seen any government officials approaching people or organisations for offering help or creating awareness about the pandemic. He said:
There exist two different scenarios — of what is happening in hospitals and what is happening on the grassroots level. Elucidating his point, he said that the first phase of the pandemic had very little impact on the state, whereas the second phase is spreading like a fire. There has been a serious community spread of the virus, with no action being taken from the government’s side to reach people.
The plight of helpless families in rural areas is a common scenario in the state, with no support given from the government. The state should look into providing livelihood facilities to poor families during the pandemic. Highlighting mismanagement at the village level, he said:
Dr Sabina Martins Founder, Bailancho Saad, A Women’s Collective; Managing Trustee, Saad Alashiro, A trust of Bailancho Saad; Convenor; Goa Bachao Abhiyan; Activist; and Panel Member, Taluka Lok Adalat, Goa, highlighted some of the issues faced by Goan women during the second wave of the pandemic. Firstly, there was unawareness about the pandemic in rural areas. This was due to two reasons: lack of information provided by the state in remote areas, and higher illiteracy and digital inaccessibility rate among women. Elucidating further, she said that there exists whole section of vulnerable society that is not connected to information channels.
Stating the fact on lack of access to healthcare facilities, she gave an example of a family member in a village who fell ill and was unable to access health facilities due to limited transportation, as the testing centres were located far away from remote areas. She highlighted the fact that providing transport facilities in rural areas was not taken into account while managing the health crisis, thereby increasing the risk factor of the spread.
Commenting on the impact of the pandemic on women caregivers of the family, she stated that caregivers in a family are usually women and their inaccessibility to healthcare has resulted in a larger problem. She also highlighted the issue of the lack of information about vaccination centres, along with vaccine shortage in rural areas.
She further dwelled upon the existence of myths regarding the pandemic and vaccination in rural areas refraining people from getting vaccinated. She underlined that the pandemic saw an increased number of cases of domestic violence and the response to crimes against women has not been impactful. She said:
Stressing upon livelihood issues, she pointed that in the second wave, people have faced a huge livelihood crisis, with no organisations or government facilities available to support them. She also raised the issue of discrimination faced by daily wage workers; they are not given any compensation or leaves as compared to government employees. She further stated there has been the existence of Covid stigma and discrimination towards people getting affected. She said:
Talking in terms of health infrastructure, she said it has been extremely poor with even helpline numbers not properly managed. Providing accurate information to people has resulted in a chaos. She pointed out that the mismanagement and lack of preparedness at every level related to providing medical facilities to people.
In terms of policy perspective, she said that the government has taken the pandemic very lightly, with no proper enforcement rules for maintaining social distancing. Carelessness could be observed at the political level during elections.
Mr Kumar Kalanand, Mani President, Peaceful Society, Goa, said that there exists no package and relief for the rural poor, small farmers and workers surviving on daily wages. Mr. Kumar said that the situation is only getting worse. The horticulture sector is badly affected, impacting the life of the rural poor. Also, livelihood issues being faced by the rural sector need to be taken into consideration. He said:
He further stated that the immediate action that needs to be taken are: mass testing of Covid cases, arrangement of proper isolation facilities for the poor, proper follow-up of both Covid-positive and post-Covid cases, and activation of public distribution systems. He said:
Dr Sabina Martins pointed that for information to reach last mile, there is need of a mechanism in place to provide information at the micro-level. Also, there is need to provide accommodation to people who are not infected. They must be isolated from the infected population.
Keeping her point on domestic violence, she underlined that there a mechanism to address domestic violence must be implemented such that physical intervention is possible.
Speaking along the same line, Dr Albertina Almeida said:
“For any planning there has to be proper data management to analyse a situation to plan the way forward.”
Showing her concern on the lack of community support and the State’s negligence towards marginalised communities, she said that with support of civil society organizations, the State should take full responsibility of protecting marginalised communities and providing them with basic livelihood amenities during the pandemic. She added that there should be adequate budgetary allocation towards health facilities to cope with the pandemic in a better way. She said:
She also supported appropriate compensation for people who have lost their lives or suffered from Covid due to inadequate government capabilities and its negligence. She said:
YouTube Video for Rural Realities | Goa Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages