Ritika Gupta, Swati Solanki, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary, Arjun Kumar
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected Indian states and Union Territories and Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been no exception. Due to issues like lack of infrastructure and human resources, both rural and urban people were caged in the web of grief and misery wherein even to see one’s loved one last time who succumbed to Coronavirus became an act of privilege.
Focusing on the Rural Realities around the country during the pandemic, the Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) and IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a Panel Discussion on Rural Realities| Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand Practitioner’s Experience in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages on May 17, 2021.
This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Mahima Kapoor and the IMPRI team which provided an overview of the COVID-19 situation in India with special reference to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panelists.
About Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand
Himachal Pradesh is a state in Northern India. According to the 2011 census, the State houses a population of 1.01 crores divided into approximately 12000 villages and 659 cities. On 25th January 1971, Himachal Pradesh was made a full-fledged State. The State is bordered by Jammu & Kashmir on North, Punjab on West and South-West, Haryana on South, Uttarakhand on South-East and China on the East.
Uttarakhand was formed on 9th November 2000 as the 27th State of India, when it was carved out of northern Uttar Pradesh. Located at the foothills of the Himalayan mountain ranges, it is largely a hilly State, having international boundaries with China (Tibet) in the north and Nepal in the east. Its population 16.6 lakhs divided into 13 districts and 115 cities.
On its northwest lies Himachal Pradesh, while on the south is Uttar Pradesh. It is rich in natural resources especially water and forests with many glaciers, rivers, dense forests, and snow-clad mountain peaks. Char-Dhams, the four most sacred and revered Hindu temples of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri are nestled in the mighty mountains.
Both the States are top performers in the Human Development Index. In the Sustainable Development Goals, Himachal Pradesh ranks second and Uttarakhand eleventh amongst the States in the country. According to Per Capita Income, Himachal Pradesh ranks fourteen and Uttarakhand eleventh nationally.
The states house majority of their population in rural areas but the proportion is very diverse, while Himachal Pradesh houses 90 percent of its population in rural areas, Uttarakhand houses only 69 percent of its population in rural areas, closer to the national average of 69 percent. Both the states perform better in terms of sex ratio and literacy rate than the national average.
COVID-19 Second Wave
During the first wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic both the states were well placed in the country both in terms of positive cases and fatalities as compared with other States in the country. The peak in Uttarakhand was two months before Himachal Pradesh and the number of cases was almost double in this State as compared to its neighbor.
The handling of the Pandemic was not equally bad as both states had a doubling time well below the national average. The positivity rate remained low for Himachal Pradesh than the national average but the same was not observed in the case of Uttarakhand.
In the second wave in Himachal, the worst-hit districts have been Solan, Hamirpur, Kangra, and Solan, Uttarakhand worrisome statistics were coming from Dehradun, Nainital, and Haridwar. Both the states had a doubling time of 8 days during the peak of the second wave. The peak herein was attributed to Kumbh Mela and tourism.
Himachal Pradesh in the second wave ranked second in the percentage of rural cases being reported by the States nationally. Uttarakhand was also facing a major migrant crisis when most people had returned to the state especially in the districts of Almora and Garhwal.
As of 17 May 2021, the total number of patients tested for COVID positive in Himachal Pradesh stood at 1,60,240, the total number of active cases at 36,909, and the total deaths reported were at 2,311. For the state of Uttarakhand, total cases as of 17 May 2021 were at 2,87,286, with total active cases at 78,802 and total deaths at 4,811.
Counting the Dead
Uttarakhand reported 4 times the number of fatalities as compared to Himachal Pradesh during the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic alone. Yet Case Fatality Rate remained below the national average in both the States. During the second wave, there was a sharp rise in the reported fatalities in both States.
Lives and Livelihood in both the States have been deeply impacted. With tourism taking a hit and religious sites being closed to contain the pandemic the economy of both states is in turmoil. Uttarakhand also has to cater to a large section of its population that has returned following the first lockdown.
Both the states are facing a vaccine shortage while the vaccine wastage percentage for both the states is approximately 1.5 percent which is well below the national average of 17.6 percent. Uttarakhand had decided to float an international tender. To add to the concerns Uttarakhand has also reported cases of medicine shortage and the health infrastructure of both states was under major stress.
In order to minimize the impact of second-wave and prepare for a third wave, issues of lack of oxygen, health infrastructure, and vaccination, which has also added to the financial burden on most rural as well as urban households, need to be addressed in moving towards healthy and prosperous Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.