The Union government is working on a war footing basis to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country. It has undertaken immediate measures to tackle the spread of the pandemic. Measures are being implemented in both urban and rural India.
Centre stepping up to support Panchayats
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, recently, the Ministry of Finance has released an amount of Rs. 8,923.8 crore to 25 States for providing grants to the Rural Local Bodies (RLBs). These grants were meant for all the three tiers of Panchayati Raj Institutions – village, block and district. The amount was released on 9 May 2021 and is the first instalment of the ‘Untied Grants’ for the year 2021-22. To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, this amount could be utilized by Rural Local Bodies for prevention and mitigation measures. According to the 15th Finance Commission, the 1st instalment of untied grants was to be released to the States in June 2021. But in light of the current situation, the Ministry of Finance decided to release the grant in advance of the normal schedule.
Besides, the 15th Finance Commission had also imposed certain conditions for the release of untied grants. These conditions incorporate online availability of accounts of a certain percentage of Rural Local Bodies in the public domain. This condition has been waived for the release of the first instalment of untied grants, considering the ongoing pandemic situation.
The State-wise details of the 1st instalment of Rural Local Bodies united grants for the year 2021-2022 is as follows:
Andhra Pradesh (387.8 crores), Arunachal Pradesh (34 crores), Assam (237.2 crores), Bihar (741.8 crores), Chhattisgarh (215 crores), Gujarat (472.4 crores), Haryana (187 crores), Himachal Pradesh (63.4 crores), Jharkhand (249.8 crores), Karnataka (475.4 crores), Kerala (240.6 crores), Madhya Pradesh (588.8 crores), Maharashtra (861.4 crores), Manipur (26.2 crores), Mizoram (13.8 crores), Odisha (333.8 crores), Punjab (205.2 crores), Rajasthan (570.8 crores), Sikkim (6.2 crores), Tamil Nadu (533.2 crores), Telangana (273 crores), Tripura (28.2 crores), Uttar Pradesh (1441.6 crores), Uttarakhand (85 crores), West Bengal (652.2 crores).
To curb the spread of COVID-19 in rural India, the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj has written to all the State governments. The Ministry in its letter has suggested States to sensitize and facilitate the Panchayats/Rural Local Bodies towards meeting the challenge and providing efficient leadership to fight against the contagious COVID-19.
Intensive communication campaign
State governments are advised to undertake intensive communication campaigns for the awareness of rural communities. All the preventive measures and mitigation measures should be according to the advisories issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, doctors and medical institutions. Besides, specific care must be ensured regarding dispelling false notions and beliefs.
Involvement of frontline volunteers
The Ministry has also suggested the frontline volunteers from the local community to actively participate in awareness campaigns. Elected panchayat representatives, teachers and ASHA workers could also participate as frontline volunteers in the fight against COVID-19. These volunteers should be adequately facilitated with necessary protective systems like finger oxy-meters, N-95 masks, infrared thermal scanning instruments, sanitisers etc.
Providing Real-time information
The Ministry has also advised state governments to leverage available IT infrastructure like Panchayat offices, Schools, Common Service Centers etc. This could help rural citizens in receiving real-time information on the availability of testing/vaccination centres, doctors, hospital beds etc.
Providing necessary village-level support
Panchayats could be activated to provide the necessary village-level support catering for their respective locations. To manage asymptomatic positive cases, households could be improvised as home quarantine locations. For the needy and returning migrant labourers, specific quarantine/isolation centres could be set up. The Ministry also suggested that the Panchayats may be designated to facilitate vaccination drives to ensure maximum coverage of the eligible population.
To provide relief and rehabilitation at the village level, the Panchayati Raj Ministry has asked the States to leverage various Central and State Government schemes. These schemes entail the provision of rations, drinking water supply, sanitation, MGNREGS employment etc. To meet the emergency requirements, proper inter-linkages with the medical facilities could be set up at the nearby District and Sub-Districts. This could help in providing emergency requirements like ambulances, advanced testing and treatment facilities, multi-speciality care to those in need without much loss of time.
Ministry of Panchayati Raj’s Secretary, Sunil Kumar, has requested States to set up a suitable inter-departmental monitoring mechanism. This should comprise officers of Panchayati Raj, Rural Development, Health, Revenue, Women & Child Development, Education Departments at Block, District and State level. The monitoring mechanism could assist in the functioning of Gram Panchayats and their Committees to tackle the COVID pandemic and related public health issues.