The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected Indian states and Union Territories, and Rajasthan has 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 Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) and Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organised a panel discussion on ‘Rural Realities | Rajasthan Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages‘ on May 12, 2021.
This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Anshula Mehta and the IMPRI team, who provided an overview of the Covid-19 situation in India with special reference to Rajasthan to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panellists.
Rajasthan is a state in north-western India. It comprises most of the wide and inhospitable Thar Desert. Its capital is Jaipur, the state’s largest city. Other important cities are Jodhpur, Kota, Bikaner, Ajmer, Bharatpur and Udaipur. It is bounded to the West and Northwest by Pakistan, to the North and Northeast by the States of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, to the East and Southeast by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and to the Southwest by Gujarat. The Tropic of Cancer passes through its southern tip in its Banswara district. The state has an area of 132,140 square miles (342,239 square kilometres).
In the west, Rajasthan is relatively dry and infertile; this area includes some part of the Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert. In the southwest part of the State, the land is wetter, hilly and more fertile. The climate varies throughout Rajasthan. On an average, winter temperatures range from 8° to 28° C (46° to 82° F) and summer temperatures range from 25° to 46° C (77° to 115° F). The average rainfall also varies — the western deserts accumulate about 100 mm (about 4 in) annually, while the Southeast part of the state receives 650 mm (26 in) annually, most of which falls from July through September during the monsoon season.
In terms of socio-economic indicators, Rajasthan ranks seventh in terms of GDP contribution, 23rd in terms of per capita income, and the Human Development Index (HDI) of Rajasthan is 0.629, which is categorised as medium.
Most of Rajasthan’s population consists of people of various social, occupational and religious backgrounds. The Rajputs (various clans of landowning rulers and their descendants), though representing only a small percentage of Rajasthan’s residents, are perhaps the most notable section of the population; indeed, the state draws its name from that community.
The Second Wave Of Covid-19
During the second wave of the pandemic, over 40% of the cases reported in Rajasthan came from its rural region. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot directed officials to post 1,000 doctors and 25,000 nursing staff in rural areas.
During the first wave of Covid, Rajasthan was among the top seven states when it came to reporting active cases. During the second wave, the total number of deaths reached 5,825. Rajasthan had the highest positivity rate with 35% and a recovery rate of 96.4%.
The vaccination rate is highest in Rajasthan at 70%. Rajasthan also reported the third-highest wastage of vaccination after Haryana and Assam. Two oxygen generation plants received by the Government of India as part of the Covid assistance received from the UK reached Rajasthan. One of these plants will be set up at Satellite Hospital in Ajmer. The second plant will be set up in the Jhalawar district.
After setting up these plants with 500-litre capacity, the State will get extra medical oxygen for Covid patients. Covid vaccination for the 18-44 age group is likely to gain momentum as the State has received 3.50 lakh vials of Covishield, which have already been distributed in all 33 districts. The State government has given its nod to purchase Covaxin, besides being in touch with Russia to import the Sputnik vaccine.
A two-week-long lockdown was imposed in Rajasthan on May 10, 2021, and went on till May 24. Except for medical emergencies, no inter-district, intercity, city-to-village or village-to-city travel was allowed during the lockdown. All places of worship remained closed. Ration shops and vegetable shops were allowed to open between 6am-11am. Except for emergency services, no other private or government transport was allowed. Even the MNREGA work was postponed to prevent infection from spreading in rural areas.
Worrying reports came from the ground from the State where death tolls did not match the ground reality. Not just the fatality rate, but even active Covid cases were underreported, which turned negative overnight. The State, throughout the second wave, kept reporting an increasing positivity rate and yet, the rate of testing reduced drastically.
Water shortage is a major issue in the future as out of 1.01 crore rural households, only 19.61 lakh are getting water supply. A major focus has to be on health infrastructure to tackle the subsequent waves of this pandemic.
There has to be proper management of oxygen and vaccine supply. Rajasthan is using the MLA fund to meet the cost of its vaccination drives and is also considering importing vaccines for the state.
Holistic, community-based interventions are the need of the hour. Interventions should be consistent with the development programmes, and not be disease- or symptom-specific. The state has to strengthen primary healthcare centres and integrate traditional medicines. Awareness has to be built through social media.
In order to minimise the impact of the second wave and prepare for the 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 Rajasthan.
YouTube Video for Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Rajasthan
Contributors: Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Anshula Mehta, Ishika Chaudhary, Mahima Kapoor, Swati Solanki, Chhavi Kapoor, Arjun Kumar, and IMPRI Team