The session started with a brief round of introduction by Shakti. He comes from Dhanau block that lies in Barmer district of Rajasthan, India. He has been with Digital Empowerment Foundation from past 6 six years. He threw light on the situation of Covid-19 in his village, emphasizing that earlier there were no cases, but recently there have been some reporting of Covid-19 cases. As of 10 June 2021, 115 cases were reported in Dhanau block and there are 400-500 new cases in Barmer. When asked if these numbers are more comparatively to last year. He said the cases are 4 times more than what they were previously. Earlier there were hardly 100 cases, but now we are seeing 600 new cases emerging every day. The population of Dhanau is around 10,000 with 6,000 voters. He added that rate of testing was slow; even though people can see their symptoms they are still hesitant to get tested. If at all people on getting symptoms get themselves tested, the lab report takes around 4-5 days to reach them. He gave his own example, by saying that he got himself tested on 1st June and by 5th June even he did not receive the test report. He pointed out reasons of cases sky rocketing unlike last year mainly because of nationwide lockdown. As a result of which movement of people was in control, unlike this time when the disease was on rise and there no restriction on people’s movement. He added that even if the government puts a lockdown now, that would be of no help because people from other locations such as Jodhpur have already come home. Furthermore this month and the previous months were wedding seasons, while the administration had allowed not more than 50 people to attend the wedding. Later the number of people who can attend wedding was kept at 31 and it was further brought down to 11.
Role of Administration
Recently administration conducted a rally and an awareness program in Rajasthan for 15 days. Despite the measures taken, the situation did not improve. Eventually a lockdown was imposed but that did not deter people, they were still coming out of their homes. One could easily figure out that lockdown was just on paper while people continued with their normal routines. Similar is the situation with hospital management, the reports were taking forever to come and in the meantime the person infected with the virus would have infected many others.
Availability of Medical Supplies and Hospital Beds
When Shakti was asked if there was any shortage of beds and oxygen, he said that people straightaway go to Barmer, where the medical arrangements are in place but even in those were occupied. Recently the Vedanta Group is making a hospital in a high school field which they say will get completed in 7 days and it will have a facility of 100 beds. While they will install 100 beds of which 80 will be oxygen beds and 20 ICU beds. While the hospital gets ready the cases will also rise, with an average of 300-400 cases, there will be close to 2100 cases in the meantime.
The vaccinations have started for 18+ years, but on registering people are unable to find their slots. In places like Jaipur and Kota where cases are higher, vaccination drive is much smoother.
Lockdown and its effect on livelihood activities
Dhanau has a large population of people engaged as artisans in handicraft activities. Last year only many shops got closed down, this year the artisans tried starting their business but once again the second wave forced them to close their business. Even NREGA work has stopped in Rajasthan because many people were getting tested positive. Moreover, last year lockdown was imposed suddenly, but this time there were a series of warnings before putting a lockdown. This gave people ample time to people to return back to their villages. Migrant workers working in the wood industry in Jodhpur came back. These people now are not getting any work which is worsening their economic situation.
In Dhanau itself there are 10-12 families with only 1 earning member. When the work of the person gets affected it disturbs the entire family’s economic status. The administration and NGOs last year were distributing ration kits along with masks and sanitizers. This year we don’t see the same thing happening there are hardly any ration kits being distributed. Similarly cash benefits of Rs. 3,500 were provided to citizen by central and state government along with the distribution of grains for initially three months and additionally two months later. While this time, the central government has promised of giving food rations to people for two months, it is yet to reach them. Shakti further added that food ration is not enough; people need vegetables and oil for cooking.
Covid-19 Appropriate Behaviour
Shakti reflected on use and practice of covid-19 behaviour of villagers in his talk. He said, last year during lockdown people were scared which invariably forced people in wearing masks, this fear coupled with rumors and folk lore also pushed people into taking precautions such as wearning masks. As the situation improved, people stopped following and taking requisite precautions, but recently hearing about death of people, again has triggered them to follow covid-19 appropriate behavior. For daily wage earners, the need to find work takes precedence over the fear of death, they say, that if they won’t find work, how will they feed their families and themselves?
DEF’s Work on Ground
The team of DEF in Barmer is spreading information about government guidelines on prevention from Covid-19 through WhatsApp. The team is continuously spreading awareness about Covid-19 protocol. There is a local person Prabhu Lal, he has been distributing masks and sanitizers among people. He is also providing government entitlement services such as Pensions to people, by conducting house-to-house visit.
The work of Banking Correspondent has increased, but they are not coming to the centres. While the government has allowed e-Mitra centres to remain open. Centres located in areas with lower population density remain open from 9 AM to 3 PM. The Rajasthan government has started a scheme, ‘Chiranjivi’, which aims at providing 5 lakhs insurance which includes farmers and even for those with smaller land holding and those working for landowners. For such groups, the state is providing insurance for Rs850 for one year and it covers their hospital expense starting from 0 to 5lakh. In addition to the government hospitals that are anyway included, even private hospitals have been incorporated in this scheme. In these hospitals, the Covid-19 treatment will be done free of cost. Information about such schemes is being disseminated by us over WhatsApp. DEF team is also enabling people to register for vaccines. Both at individual level and organizational level people are being registered on the Cowin portal. The only problem is finding slots for vaccination. In cases of emergencies one either has to go to Barmer, Jodhpur or Gujarat. But one can only hope the spread of Covid-19 stops spreading.