The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected Indian states and Union Territories, and Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been no exception. Due to issues like lack of infrastructure and human resources, both rural and urban citizens were caged in the web of grief and misery wherein, even to see for the last time one’s loved ones who succumbed to the coronavirus became an act of privilege.
Focusing on the Rural Realities around the country during the pandemic, the Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) and Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organised a panel discussion on ‘Rural Realities| Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand Practitioner’s Experience in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages‘ on May 17, 2021.
This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Mahima Kapoor and the IMPRI team, who provided an overview of the Covid-19 situation in India with special reference to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panellists.
Himachal Pradesh (HP) is a state in Northern India. According to the 2011 Census, the State houses a population of 1.01 crores divided into approximately 12,000 villages and 659 cities. On January 25, 1971, HP was made a full-fledged State, bordering Jammu and Kashmir to the North, Punjab to the West and South-West, Haryana to the South, Uttarakhand to the South-East, and China to the East.
Uttarakhand was formed on November 9, 2000, as the 27th State of India, when it was carved out of northern Uttar Pradesh. Located at the foothills of the Himalayan mountain ranges, it is largely a hilly State, having international boundaries with China (Tibet) to the North and Nepal to the East. Its population of one crore is divided among 13 districts and 115 cities.
To its Northwest lies Himachal Pradesh, while to the South is Uttar Pradesh. It is rich in natural resources, especially water and forests, with many glaciers, rivers, dense forests and snow-clad mountain peaks. Char-Dhams, the four most sacred and revered Hindu temples of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, are nestled in the mighty mountains of Uttarakhand.
Both the States are top-performers in the Human Development Index. In the Sustainable Development Goals Index, Himachal Pradesh ranks second and Uttarakhand eleventh amongst the States in the country. According to data on per capita income, Himachal Pradesh ranks fourteen and Uttarakhand eleventh nationally.
The States house the majority of their population in rural areas, but the proportion is very diverse. While HP houses 90% of its population in rural areas, Uttarakhand houses only 69%, closer to the national average of 69%. Both the States perform better in terms of sex ratio and literacy rate than the national average.
During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, both the States were well-placed in the country, both in terms of positive cases and fatalities, as compared with other States in the country. The peak in Uttarakhand was two months before HP’s and the number of cases were almost double in this State as compared to its neighbour.
The handling of the pandemic was not equally bad as both States had a doubling time well below the national average. The positivity rate remained low for HP than the national average, but the same was not observed in the case of Uttarakhand.
In the second wave in HP, the worst-hit districts have been Solan, Hamirpur and Kangra; in Uttarakhand, worrisome statistics were coming from Dehradun, Nainital and Haridwar. Both the States had a doubling time of eight days during the peak of the second wave. The peak herein was attributed to Kumbh Mela and tourism.
During the second wave, HP ranked second in the percentage of rural cases being reported by the States nationally. Uttarakhand was also facing a migrant crisis when most people returned to the State, especially in the districts of Almorha and Garhwal.
As of May 17, 2021, the total number of patients who tested Covid positive in HP stood at 1,60,240, the total number of active cases were 36,909, and the total deaths reported were 2,311. For Uttarakhand, total cases as of May 17, 2021, were at 2,87,286, with a total of 78,802 active cases and 4,811 deaths.
Uttarakhand reported four times the number of fatalities as compared to HP during the first peak of the Covid-19 pandemic alone. Yet, the case fatality rate remained below the national average in both the States. During the second wave, there was a sharp rise in the reported fatalities in both States.
The lives and livelihood of people in both the States have been deeply impacted. With tourism taking a hit and religious sites being closed to contain the pandemic, the economy of the States is in turmoil. Uttarakhand also has to cater to a large section of its population that has returned following the first lockdown.
Both the States are facing a vaccine shortage, even as the vaccine wastage for them is approximately 1.5%, which is well below the national average of 17.6%. Uttarakhand had decided to float an international tender. To add to the concerns, the State has reported cases of medicine shortage. The health infrastructure of both the States has been under major stress during the peak of the Covid waves.
In order to minimise the impact of the second wave and prepare for a third wave, issues of lack of oxygen, health infrastructure and vaccination, which has also added to the financial burden on most rural as well as urban households, need to be addressed in moving towards healthy and prosperous Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
YouTube Video for Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand
Contributors: Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary, Kashish Babbar, Mahima Kapoor, Swati Solanki, Chhavi Kapoor, Arjun Kumar and IMPRI Team