Opening the session on Rural Realities- West Bengal, Dr. Simi Mehta, CEO & Editorial Director at IMPRI, welcomed the panelists to the session. Since the beginning of May2021, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, had organized a series of sessions to discuss the rural ground realities, speaking to rural practitioners and their ways and means of tackling the second pandemic wave. On May 25, 2021, the discussion was centered on “Rural Realities | West Bengal Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages”.
Following the welcome by Dr. Simi,The IMPRI team informed the discussion by locating for the event participants the situation of COVID 19 in India and West Bengal. The team also provided an insight into the geography and Socio economic conditions of the state. The rationale was to provide the participants with an overview of the state of West Bengal.
Lack of Medical Facilities
Mr. Tanmoy Bhaduri, Independent Journalist and Development Communication Expert, stated that the program was facing problems due to a shortage of vaccines and digital divide and glitches that marred the Co-WIN portal.
Lack of medical services such as ambulances, private nursing homes and ICU beds in rural as well as urban areas added to the woes.
Mr. Bhaduri spoke about the absence of political help as compared to last year. Only volunteers were responding to emergency calls. Further, several NGOs were facing difficulties in accessing aid to help the poor, marginalized and daily wage workers in the rural areas.
He also highlighted the work done by him in providing adolescent girls with sanitary napkins and distributing sewing machines to manufacture the same.
Some of the suggestions put forth by Mr. Tanmoy Bhaduri were decentralized approach, state-level COVID management practices, regulation of fees charged by private hospitals, creating a database of district level hospitals and private nursing homes.
Q & A:
Citing the example of Nadia district, Mr. Tanmoy Bhaduri stated that several counsellors were in constant touch with the parents of girl children susceptible to child marriages.
On a question about trafficking, Mr. Bhaduri remarked that girls often fell prey to online miscreants. Adding to the topic of trafficking, Mr. Rai highlighted that the pandemic had turned the entire hills’ economy upside down. This would only fuel displacement and add to further miseries.
Regarding a question on Anganwadis and their role in the pandemic, Mr. Bhaduri answered that their role had been extremely limited, especially in the south Bengal region. While the ASHA workers were actively engaged in fighting the pandemic, the same was not true of Anganwadi workers.
On vaccination plans for vulnerable communities in the rural areas, Mr. Bhaduri answered that vaccine hesitancy was widely prevalent. Apart from vaccine hesitancy, vaccine shortages accompanied with distribution glitches resulted in preventing peoples’ access to the public good. Mr. Vikram Rai further remarked that tea workers had to be listed as a priority group for vaccination.
On the need to constantly monitor COVID positive patients with co-morbidities, Mr. Bhaduri remarked that the entire episode exposed the inefficiency of the government to adequately provide public health.