Jharkhand, like most of India, has woken up late to the COVID-19 pandemic and is yet to provide adequate social security to the people. Although no COVID-19 case has been officially reported in Jharkhand so far, this may be a myth since the state has only one testing centre where only a few dozen samples have been tested, according to local media reports. However, there have been at least three deaths in which the victims came back from Tamil Nadu and Goa recently, and reportedly had symptoms similar to COVID-19 (Check these reports – Palojodi, Chhattarpur). There may be many more untested confirmed cases. The public health system of Jharkhand is in tatters with sick and likely infected persons nowhere to go for assistance. For example, there are only 298 primary health centres in the state with abysmal infrastructure and human resource. This can result in nil reporting which may lead to a sudden explosion.
Along with the health crisis, the 21-days lockout will wreak havoc on the poor and marginalised. In addition to the health services, the government should provide adequate income and food security to the people. In a state with endemic hunger and undernutrition, ensuring food and other essentials for the poor should be top priority. It must be mentioned that since last few days, Jharkhand government is proactively working to check this pandemic. But the response, both in terms of health and welfare initiatives, leaves a lot to be desired. For example, recently many migrant workers were left stranded, without adequate government support, at railway stations and bus stands. (See https://twitter.com/JharkhandJanad1/status/1241995316024340480). In the last two days, government has made some useful announcements like setting up community kitchens or distribution of PDS grains in advance, but they are yet to be implemented.
The central and Jharkhand governments need to take a cue from measures adopted by Kerala and many other countries to expand extensive healthcare and social welfare services to the people. Drawing from these, Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha demands the following measures to be implemented immediately–
- PDS coverage should be made universal in rural areas and urban slums and include all excluded and working-class families. In addition, foodgrain entitlement should at least be doubled and OTP-based distribution system currently implemented in PDS should be replaced with “offline” method of distribution for everyone. Also provide pulses, soap and edible oil at subsidised rates (free, at least to the poorest). Provide all the commodities in advance for three months. At this time of emergency, strict action should be taken against hoarders, corrupt dealers.
- Increase coverage of social security pensions to include all excluded elderly, single women and disabled, at least double the pension amount and provide two months pension in cash in advance.
- All families with migrant workers, manual workers, urban homeless, slum dwellers, transgenders and small vendors should be provided an income support to cover for the income loss in this period. Adequate provisions should be made for stranded migrant workers to return to their native places. Alternatively, shelter homes can be arranged for such people.
- Community kitchens to be set up at urban, semi-urban and block-level public centres to provide free cooked food / dry rations to anyone in need of food. Free meals to be made available to all patients and functionaries of all health centres.
- Provide cooked food / dry rations comprising 6 eggs / week to children (in school and Anganwadis), pregnant and lactating mothers.
- Immediately provide paid leave / unemployment allowance to all NREGA workers and registered workers, and clear all pending payments.
- Reports of shortage and hoarding of essentials have started coming. Government should ensure adequate supply, distribution and price control of all essentials.
Public health services
- State government should immediately share the data pertaining to number of samples tested, number of COVID-19 infected persons, number of quarantined persons, number of testing kits available in the state, status of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and health workers, without revealing the identity of COVID suspected or confirmed person.
- Testing facilities should be increased and in order to rule out hidden cases, a sampling exercise (like South Korea and China) of thousand samples from each district should be done within a week.
- Public hospital and health centres (including primary health centres) must be immediately strengthened with increased capacity to meet the needs of a sudden surge in patients. All block and panchayat offices should be provided with check-up facilities and adequate equipment must be provided for testing. Additional insurance cover should be provided to each health employee (including those on contract service) to boost their confidence and morale.
- People should be encouraged to consume local food and forest produce, traditionally consumed amongst Adivasis and forest dwellers for enhancing immunity.
- Widely disseminate all information related to COVID-19, especially in rural areas, such as – testing and functional health centres, welfare policies, symptoms of COVID-19 and preventive measures and so on.
- It is critical during a crisis that the government is aware of all the issues and shortcomings. Encourage citizens to regularly share ground reality of issues faced by people and implementation of government measures through media and social media, reporting to the block and panchayat level office and so on. Mahasabha will keep appraising the government regularly of the issues faced by people so that prompt action can be taken.
- A 24X7 active helplines to address grievances and disseminate information regarding COVID-19, health and income needs, harassment by ration dealers or other service providers, etc.
- The state government should also ensure that no-one is harassed by the police in search of COVID-19 suspects or during lockdown. Policing by people should also be discouraged.