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COVID 19- Agonies of Odisha Sarpanches no one is talking about

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The recent decision of the Odisha government to delegate the power of the district collector to a ‘Sarpanch’ was a historic move. However, with the state expecting an influx of more than 7.5 lakhs of migrant workers, students, professionals and other stranded Odia people in other states, sarpanches, who will be at the forefront of the government’s efforts in containing the spread of Coronavirus, will have to fight a tough battle to handle this.

So far 1,76,152 Odias have returned to Odisha, as per the estimation made by the Odisha government.

No doubt, Odisha leads the way disaster responses are being tackled by other states and Odisha is the only state to make such provisions, except that magistrate power that they can impose on the people, do all the Gram Panchayats have enough physical, human and financial resources to tackle COVID 19?

It’s not an easy task

And the glee that these Sarpanches had due to the government’s trust over the Gram Panchayats, is also not going to last long as many of them have already sensed about the tough times they will have to confront to. Especially, the 11 migration prone districts of the state may face grave consequences once the stranded people start returning.

“There are 377 people of our Gram Panchayat who are staying in other states out of which 202 people have registered for the return so far but we only have only 50 beds available in our Gram Panchayats. We had a discussion in this regard with the BDO but he has instructed us to arrange only 50 beds. It will pose as a challenge to arrange quarantine facilities for all,” says Mr Dhiroj Pradhan, Sarpanch of Bhanpur Gram Panchayat under Narla Block in Kalahandi district.

According to the data of the state government, it has managed to create 2.2 lakh quarantine beds in 7,120 temporary medical centres in about 7,000-gram panchayats and 120 urban local bodies to house the migrant workers for a 14-day quarantine. 

As a subsequent move, the Odisha Government launched a portal for registration of the migrant workers and other stranded people in other states so that they have the final number of returnees.

“The portal which was running since 24th April, saw 5.5 lakh people registering their names and other particulars,” said Odisha’s government’s chief spokesperson on Covid-19, Subroto Bagchi. 

This has mounted fear for the state COVID19 response team as they count the return of the migrant workers will outnumber the isolation beds available in the state so far.

Community-based monitoring at its stake

“The idea of the state government to empower Gram Panchayats to conduct community-based monitoring is a comfy step. But, had it been introduced earlier through disaster response programmes, this could have added value to the proposition. As the Sarpanches are not capacitated enough to tackle COVID 19 situation, ensuring accountability will be an issue,” says Mr Anjan Pradhan, Convener of Odisha Shramajeebee Manch. 

On the other hand, COVID 19 management is not the gizmo that will ferry them in the next Panchayat elections. The Sarpanches need people’s benediction to win over the next election. So, how they can play a tough task master’s role to the people when their sustained power is dependent on their votes.

“The Migrant labourers are one who frequently move out of their home and therefore having all the required documents remain a challenge for them. Making Adhar Card mandatory for registration stop many to comeback as they can’t produce the Aadhar card.  Govt should not make it mandatory for online registration. All those who want to return should be allowed to return, says Ms. Shanti Bhoi, President, Mahila Shramajeebi Mancha, Odisha

Also, the Sarpanches are left with no clue over when the returnees will arrive, their mode of transport and other informations, which are being asked by their family members. This is creating worry and disarray, adds Ms. Bhoi.

Money matters

The press release of the state government reads Rs. 5 lakh from GP Fund has been given to open COVID-19 special temporary medical centre in every Gram Panchayat. Similarly, Community Health Centre (CHC) and Primary health Centre (PHC) have been provided with Rs. 10 lakh and Rs. 5 lakh respectively for arrangement of basic facilities and sanitization. 

However, the picture is not same at the ground

While the delegation of the collector power to the Sarpanch is being welcomed by all, the mismanagement has put an woe among these people’s representatives. For many of them, the beaurocratic structure has hardly allowed them to realise their new roles, despite the historic move of the Naveen Patnaik’s government has put in place.

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