While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world alike, its impact on people from disparate socio-economic standings has been unequal. Keeping in line with this and in continuation of the rural realities webinar series, the Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, organized a panel discussion on “Rural Realities Practitioners’ Experience in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages” on June 1st, 2021.
Mr. Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI laid the groundwork for the session by discussing the public health challenges and role of the government in India, and policy actions in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.
The IMPRI team gave a brief presentation in order to provide an overview of the union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. They informed the participants about the state’s geographical and socio-economic status and gave insight into the situation of COVID-19 in India and the union territories, highlighting pertinent emerging issues.
Coordination and Cooperation
Dr Sajad Padder, Assistant Professor, Government Degree College mentioned that more than 70% population of Jammu and Kashmir resides in rural areas. The second wave has been much more lethal in terms of number of cases and deaths, as compared to the first one.
To substantiate this argument, he added that testing is available in rural areas and post testing positive, a team of medical staff assist the patient. In terms of vaccination, it is available, although there has been hesitancy on part of the people. In response, ASHA workers and student volunteers have worked at creating awareness and encouraging people to get vaccinated.
The supply of food has not been disrupted. Migrant workers, mostly from Bihar, have not returned, moderately affecting the agricultural activities.
Social and Economic Backdrop
Mr Tundup Nurbu, Counsellor of Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh listed the main issues of lack of trust on the government, misinformation and social stigma among the rural population. Owing to the closely connected community, these problems are exacerbated.
The three key industries of Leh are agriculture, army and tourism. More than the COVID-19 pandemic, people are worried about how to earn their livelihoods.
The government response in the second wave has been lagging. The economic status of the people does not allow for home isolation facilities.
Political Economy Perspective
Dr Sehar Iqbal, Development Expert Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall highlighted the socio-economic indicators of Jammu and Kashmir. It had a heavily funded public sector, until 2019 when it was given the status of a union territory. The delivery of resources and information has now been centralized, sowing seeds of lack of transparency and in-accountability.
The health, disaster management and inter-connected infrastructure is understaffed and under-equipped. The government has to enable an environment of cooperation and consultation. This has not happened yet due to the political backdrop that engulfs the Valley, severing relations between the residents and the government.
Testing and Vaccination
Dr Pavitra Kumar Jena, Assistant Professor, School of Economics, Shree Mata Vaishnu Devi University noted that the civil societies and organizations have been active in the rural areas. The government, on the other hand, has not been proactive. Specifically, in case of daily income earners, the government should provide special packages.
There is regional disparity between Jammu and Kashmir and further sub-regional disparities among regions. Medical infrastructure and guidelines are weak. One reason why the mortality rates are at their existing levels in the union territories is owing to the delay in response to the symptoms of COVID-19. In terms of vaccinations, Dr Jena is optimistic about its standing in Kashmir.
Kargil is relatively cut-off from the rest of the country, considering road and air connectivity. Mr Sajjad Kargili, Activist and Political Analyst, Ladakh therefore, believes that it is relatively easier to manage the entry of people from outside and a lockdown is not needed.
The season imposes a natural lockdown of 6 months. The supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, and education get disrupted.
Agreeing with Mr Nurbu, he said that the health and education infrastructure is weak. There is no super-specialty hospital in the towns of Kargil and Leh and people have to depend on cities like Srinagar and Delhi. This is not practical in the pandemic.
An important suggestion of providing relief packages was made. Free vaccination drive for all Ladakhi residents and people’s cooperation with the administration have been major positives. Furthermore, religious organizations and committees have worked towards mitigating the impact of COVID-19.
- The government policy action has to be consistent with development of health and economic sectors.
- Investment in public health infrastructure is a major aspect in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Delayed testing has to be avoided by creating awareness and cooperation among residents.
- Relief packages for Below Poverty Line people will support the people.
- By monitoring entry points into the union territories, the number of new cases can be controlled.
- Telecommunication facilities have to be set up in rural areas to support online education.
Acknowledgement: Mahima Kapoor is a Research Intern at IMPRI