With Coronavirus outbreak causing significant damage to humanity and the economy worldwide, the governments have been actively strategising ways to contain the virus. Though efforts by the Indian authorities have been well appreciated, we should not rest on these laurels as the cases are still on the rise. The local government have a major role to play in controlling the viral outbreak. These are the authorities working on the grassroots level to fight the pandemic. Speaking on a similar perspective, Vipul Ujwal, Joint Commissioner cum Commissioner, NREGA, Government of Punjab addressed a webinar organised by Elets Technomedia. Ujwal highlighted the strategies used by the authorities in Punjab to fight the pandemic. Also, how the crisis has affected the Centre’s NREGA programme.
Talking on the topic, Ujwal commenced his address saying, “We implemented a statewide curfew and then we had to plan for the supply chain of essential commodities to ensure the delivery of essentials to the people.” There was a need for an effective protocol to be ready to execute in such hard times, he added.
He further talked about the monitoring of the COVID situation. Elaborating on the importance of active monitoring and how the authorities geared up with apt tools for surveillance he said, “So monitoring such a situation and keeping in check the social distancing was a big task and a novel situation…Technology has been a great help. We used mobile applications for active tracking and monitoring purposes.”
As Punjab is an agriculture prominent state, talking on the scenario of the agriculture sector during the Corona crisis, Ujwal said, “We have declared minimum support price (MSP) and the farmers were provided support to take their produce to the mandis. For the entire supply chain, we need labour, we need vehicles and more. We had also realised that we need to have fodder for the animals as well.” Hence, an action plan was constituted considering these factors well. There were many challenges but the proactiveness among the officials, frontline workers made it possible to control the situation, he added.
“One of the major challenges we faced was of the fake news being spread through various mediums and that caused stress and fear among people. Therefore, we had to actively engage media to prevent people to believe on fake news and started spreading awareness about the disease, prevention, significance of social distancing and other important aspects”, Ujwal said.
On the use of effective strategies in the state he added, “We are far better than other big countries. Our active cases and the number of infections and the number of deaths are far less if we compare it with other big countries. Our preventive measures, lockdowns and social distancing norms we followed has shown the results.”
Role of technology to fight Corona pandemic
When asked about the technological tools and measures used by the authorities in Punjab to tackle the crisis, Ujwal said, “Technology has been a great help. We are using dashboards and we are using it to ease data collection and data management. Also, in order to make a good policy decision, the data collected must be made in a form which is easier to interpret and easy to use. We are working with KPMG to extract out data regarding our helplines, how many calls, the rate of calls and more. Then we had to analyse the data to know how effective the move was.”
Adding on the helpline service, he said, “We came up with helplines as not everyone is comfortable in using smartphones and new tech, especially old people.”
Elaborating on how technology has been an aid for the authorities Ujwal said, “Emergencies like these put everything on fast forward. Although it is challenging, we have started venturing in online classes and online education system. Also, we have started using tech to improve and enhance health infra. Similarly, we have been enhancing our disaster preparedness significantly to avoid losses in times of such disasters in future.”
Answering a question on how tech has been simplifying functions in NREGA, Ujwal said, “Once we have a tech then we assimilate it in our daily lives and it stays there. Every year new tech is coming up and things are getting easier. Considering NREGA, when it started 10-15 yrs ago, the benefits were given through cheques but at that time there was more space for corruption. But today we are using DBT and directly transferring benefits to the accounts of beneficiaries. As bank accounts are linked with Aadhar.”
Considering technology as an enabler for the government to tackle crisis like COVID, e-Governance has played a crucial role. Commenting on the fact, Ujwal said, “In the coming times e-Governance will be on the rise and to be specific m-Governance (mobile-based governance) will be the next-gen governance scenario.”
Way out of lockdown
When asked about the opening of the shops in areas least affected or not affected by COVID, Ujwal said, “Idea of opening shops in areas where the COVID spread is not there is fine as that can kick start the economy again. But we need to ensure that even while opening some of the shops we have to still focus on keeping in check the social distancing practice.”
Answering a question exit strategies from the lockdown implemented due to Corona outbreak, he said, “Exit will depend on the scenario. How the situation turns up will decide how the exit will be implemented. Opening of shops is one of the steps towards the exit of the lockdown but let’s see how it turns up.”
Once the lockdown is lifted then the government will be planning to handle the mass of migrating labourers who will be desperate to go back to their home state. The lockdown will be lifted but with terms and conditions. The government will be planning for how the people will be sent back considering transport and keeping social distancing in touch. Moreover, arrangements for quarantining those coming from other states have to be taken care of. These will be included in the exit strategy, he added.