Context: With migrant labourers back in their hometowns because of nationwide lockdown, gram panchayats need to strengthen containment measures in these interior boundaries.

Ground realities:

  • Every village is in itself a fortress during these difficult times and every village needs attention within.
  • No place to isolate: Unfortunately, the houses in villages are often one or two-room dwellings, with an average seven family members to accommodate.
  • Absence of running water within households:Villages consist of common points for water and there are heavy chances of these becoming hotspots for COVID-19.
  • No decentralisation in reality: Issuing orders from the top is the norm and an ecosystem has evolved where even the elected representatives of panchayats wait for directions and a sarpanch does not assert himself before a bureaucrat.
  • Villages are more prone: Many scientists and researchers have already predicted the possibility of villages becoming hotspots of the disease after the 21-day lockdown is lifted.

Making villages proactive agents in fight against COVID-19

  • With the influx of thousands of migrant labourers into villages, there is an imminent need to isolate them for at least 14 days.
  • Involve foundational governance structure of villages i.e. gram panchayats — very effectively and efficiently in this situation. 
  • Proactive engagement of citizens:  
    • For instance,In some southern States with pre-embedded conditions of self-governing and nearly autonomous panchayats, they are becoming the beacons of hope by proactively engaging with citizens at the village level.
    • Home delivery of cooked food is spiking as the situation demands in community kitchens run by local bodies in Kerala.
    • Community policing with the active engagement of panchayats: As the police cannot reach out to each and every village round the clock because of their inadequate resources

Way ahead:

  • Panchayats can work in three areas: awareness generation, setting up isolation conditions with cooked meal supply, and streamlining social security measures announced by the Central and State governments.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-key-arsenal-in-rural-indias-pandemic-fight/article31293099.ece

Image Source: Indian Express