As the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps through India, districts are being tapped by the government for timely detection and reporting of cases, and prevention. Our ‘Inside Districts’ series will feature interviews of Block-level officials, panchayat functionaries and frontline workers to understand their challenges and best practices.
The Accountability Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research is currently operational in five Indian states. For part two of the series, our field staff spoke with a Panchayat Secretary in Vaishali, Bihar.
The interview was originally conducted in Hindi on 1 April 2020, and has been translated.
Q: When did you first get to know about Covid-19?
Panchayat Secretary: The Block Development Officer (BDO) sat us down in February. After this, we (Sarpanch and I) were instructed that we have to make sure social distancing norms are followed, awareness generation activities are undertaken, and if any person is found roaming, then appropriate action be taken against him/her. We also had to prepare the local school to shelter-in-place people who were from outside the village.
Q: What are your COVID-19 related tasks?
Panchayat Secretary: I have prepared lists of people who have arrived in the village whether they be from a different district or state, and distributed masks.
Q: Are you encountering any challenges?
Panchayat Secretary: Even as we have explained to the village folk to not venture out of their homes, some are not listening. Labourers are still working in farms; we have seen groups of 10 people working together. After we discuss social distancing norms with them, they halt work for a bit. But they resume working soon after.
The good news is that, in our Panchayat, not a single COVID-19 positive case has been reported. Nobody from outside the village has visited. Villagers have themselves stopped people from outside entering the area, even if they are related to somebody in the village. They say that ‘if we ban entry of people who are arriving from outside the village, then Coronavirus will also be not able to enter’.
However, masks are unavailable and the prices of essential commodities like vegetables have doubled. The administration is working on establishing the reasons.