In continuation with the ongoing discussions on the Rural Realities around the country, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi and International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD), Kerala organized a Panel Discussion on “Rural Realities |Kerala | Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages” on May 20, 2021, as the second wave of coronavirus pandemic is engulfing the length and breadth of our country, India, and hitting the heartland of our country which is the rural areas.
The IMPRI team informed the discussion by locating for the event participants the situation of COVID 19 in India and Kerala. 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 Kerala.
Saving Lives and Livelihood during the Pandemic
Moderator of the webinar, Prof Irudaya Rajan, Chairman, International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD), Kerala said that Kerala needs to learn lessons from the first wave thereby replicating and reorganizing current existing policies. He said the way COVID was tackled in the first wave was one of the best model to tackle the pandemic scenario.
He further added that in the first wave we talked between lives and livelihoods with migrant issues being the major one along with livelihoods while in the second wave everything moved to lives whereas migrant issues and livelihoods were pushed back and saving lives became the priority.
Mr. Reni K Jacob, Legal consultant, International Justice Mission (IJM)Talked about the governing initiatives and actions during pandemic. Mr. Jacob stated that people of Kerala somehow appreciated the COVID response of the Kerala government. The Kerala government’s health system is better compared to health systems of the country with committed staff, good governance, and vigilant people along with good convergence between police, health and panchayat. Elucidating on the good governance perspective of Kerala he told that in rural areas ASHA workers in Kerala played an important role in communicating cases to the concerned authority for taking immediate actions.
He also threw light on the work done by NGOs in current pandemic scenario by giving various livelihood opportunities to people and reaching out to them in adverse conditions. He appreciated the efforts of panchayats and their coordination with Kudumbashree Kerala yojana and various NGOs providing community kitchen food and free ration shops. He also talked about NGOs working with tribal people in the state providing livelihood opportunities and prompt services in coordination with government.
“In the present scenario with families losing their livelihood opportunities and number of families where children are becoming orphan, it may lead to child labor and human trafficking.” Says Mr. Reni K Jacob.
“We are happy the way Kerala government has worked during the pandemic with all of its capabilities”. Says Mr. Reni K Jacob.
Proactive Approach in responding to COVID-19
Dr. Sriram Venkitaraman Joint Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Govt of Kerala stated that the pandemic is not only concerned with health vertical but it has effected every aspect of human beings life hence it is important that all stakeholders from the society work diligently in all the roles and responsibilities allotted to them.
“Kerala is known for its strength and resilience in coming up in difficult scenarios which has been proved again.” Says Dr. Sriram.
Throwing light on good governance aspects of Kerala, he stated the Kerala has grass root level decentralized structure with bottom up approach that came to rescue and acted as a pillar of strength as we go through first and second wave of the pandemic.
Stating the governments take on the pandemic crisis he said that right from the first wave the Kerala government acted proactively to understand that the pandemic is going to be big in the future and prepared accordingly keeping in view the crisis, we all have undergone during the second wave.
Elucidating his point he points that Kerala government formed a rapid response team at the state level for responding to any urgent or unexpected situation that would come in the future. Talking about the infrastructure vertical he said that Kerala government was quick to realize that hospitals alone would not be able to handle the situation and decided to establish front line centers outside hospitals for taking care of patients who are mildly symptomatic and did not require full hospital setup for taking care.
There were more one lakh beds set up outside the hospitals in the scenario. Secondly Kerala was proactive in testing with contact tracing, preparing route maps and ensuring that all the contacts were quarantining and tested. He further said that human resource of Kerala in every sector is probably its biggest strength.
“Strings of proactive steps taken by the Kerala government with a comprehensive vision enabled us in pulling off the pandemic crisis effectively.” Says Dr. Sriram.
Ward-based COVID management in Panchayats
Mr. T M Sathyan Coordinator (Kerala), ActionAid Association talked about action aid work and their contribution in COVID crisis and stated that action aid during first wave worked closely with panchayats and municipalities while focusing more on Dalit communities. Mr. Sathyam focused on panchayat level convergence that is happening with efforts of volunteers, Asha workers and youth in the community.
The existence of ward level task force a special initiative in Kerala has brought in good results with respect in curtailing COVID positive cases in rural areas. He further highlighted the role of political parties along with their youth volunteer team in helping people during pandemic crisis.
Civil Society & NGOs
Mr. John Samuel, Former International Director, ActionAid Association highlighted on first wave and second wave crisis in the state and said that looking at the COVID situation in early march onwards in 2020 in the first wave, we did very well with strict restrictions following but after the initial four months the extent of the COVID spread started increasing in the state. He however criticized the carelessness observed in political campaigning conducted in Kerala in view of elections and highlighted that it was probably the major reason of losing control over the situation during second wave. In the second wave Kerala’s action was delayed due to elections and it failed to curtail the pandemic effectively.
“For three months during election phase government took people and public policy for granted.” Says Mr. John.
Talking on the positives of the state he said that Kerala has the highest per capita beds in the hospitals with public health care system right up to the PHCs. Secondly there exist a very good local governance system. Thirdly the state also has one of the best private health care system. He further stated that Kerala has a very active civil society with active NGOs, resident associations and political parties. There exist collective sense of responsibility and social capital and solidarity in Kerala.
Talking about economic consequences Mr. John said that Kerala has a huge number of vulnerable middle class which have been severely pushed back by COVID crisis and government should take measures to protect them.
“In Kerala, the private health care too played an important role in COVID response and management.” Says Mr. John.
Prof Vinoj Abraham, Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Kerala Shared his observations and said that Kerala was one of the states that ideally could have seen much more number of cases, deaths and COVID related problems due to percentage of more urban society. There exist hardly any difference in rural and urban scenario and facilities in Kerala during the pandemic. Kerala has one of the lowest death rates in India whether it be rural or urban. Secondly talking about health care facilities he said that it’s the decentralized governance that has form a pillar for improved health care facilities in the state.
Throwing light on the livelihood aspect Prof Vinoj said that largest number of affected will be international migrants who have either come back or lost their jobs in gulf countries. Since around 25% of state GDP consist of remittance there would be huge impact on states economy. Since Kerala being a consumer society when remittance falls it affects the entire state.
“The period after pandemic needs to be seen very carefully as it can be very difficult phase for Kerala.” Says Prof Vinoj Abraham
He further highlighted that Kerala is depended a lot on tourism sector as Kerala’s most important revenue sources comes from the tourism sector. As tourism is completely washed away in the state and there are less possibilities of it in the near future. He states that though Kerala has been able to manage the pandemic very well, there exists a huge livelihood issues in the state.
Discussants: Community Resilience
Dr. Dilip Diwakar Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, Central University of Kerala commented that Kerala has strong social system with acts providing strength to Dalits and tribal people. Kerala also has strong health system and with convergence of strong social system and health system Kerala state is resilient in addressing various catastrophic situation. Talking about pandemic he highlighted that till June 2020 the state was able to work in best possible ways but when state failed to receive required support from the center its condition worsen, that was the time Kerala opened up various sectors for livelihood of people which led to increase in number of positive cases in the state.
Sreenath Namboodiri Assistant Professor, Chinmaya Viswa Vidhyapeeth, Eranakulam Shared views that first surge of the virus did not saw community spread as compared to the second surge and hence the second wave needed contact tracing to which Kerala was much more ready and experienced.
He further stated that all of these things has led to a position where we see some kind of nationalism coming up in Kerala which has given a more of community sense to the people thereby giving boost to bureaucrats, society and civil society to perform well.
Another important aspect of the state is the investment that has been put in the stem education which has led to better understanding of digital modules in every family of the society. However he says that the gap between Rural and urban economy has been widened by the pandemic in the state.
TK Arun Consulting Editor, The Economic Times stated that when we compare Kerala COVID numbers to the other states we have to understand that Kerala’s numbers are more realistic than the numbers given by states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The number of positive cases in Kerala are reported correctly as compared to other parts of the country and hence Kerala would have probably one of the accurate database in terms of COVID cases and mortality.
Esther Maria Selvam Action Aid India pointed that it is important to understand how well we can response to the situation using an effective model. The new challenge of stigma and discrimination faced by COVID is highly prevalent in the state which causes high spread of the virus. According to her the existing stigma and discrimination associated with the disease should be given high priority and efforts need to be taken to eliminate it.
State of Efficiency
Chairing the session Dr. Nivedita Haran Retd. Additional Chief Secretary, Dept. of Home Affairs, Govt. of Kerala, and Honorary Chairperson on Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID), Kerala said that watching Kerala from outside is a different thing altogether. She further commented that in spite of having one of the best health care infrastructure with very good networks of doctors and social deliverables, with vaccination system going well along with no shortage of oxygen, Kerala was hit hard by the second wave.
She added that the second wave was very much brought by the suicidal mentality of challenging the virus. She said that she would have expected Kerala to have performed much better.
In the first phase of the pandemic the guidelines, SOPs, lockdown and direction issued is all about that government meant business but towards the second wave everything seemed very half hearted. Further she elaborated that decentralized governance is the plus point of Kerala and when it comes to policies and making health facilities available it has to come from state level.
“The role performed by the other non-state actors in Kerala during pandemic needs to be learned by other states.” Says Dr. Nivedita Haran.
Migrant worker crisis
Taking about the migrant workers she added that the pandemic has drawn attention to the fact that internal migrant workers are there for good and the states cannot do without as 40% of India’s economy is controlled through migrant population. Thus we need to put our attention in providing well-being and livelihood facilities to these migrant workers.
“We have to find some ways in which either the source state or the host state take care of the migrant workers and their interest.” Says Dr. Nivedita Haran.
Sharing her views on data Dr. Nivedita says that good scientific data collected is extremely important in Kerala as the state has different profiles of population with high percentage of ageing population. Thus the impact of COVID 19 on Kerala will probably be much different as compared to states of Bihar and UP.
“Data collection of people impacted, infected, recovered, fatality will play an important role in the future.” Says Dr. Nivedita Haran.
Responding to a question on impact of pandemic on tourism sector and Kerala’s economy Prof Rajan said that tourism sector has more number of internal migrants working in Kerala, hence the issue of internal migrants needs to be relooked at carefully by compiling a database for internal migrants.
Responding to a question of international learning for Kerala in handling COVID crisis Mr. John said that as far as COVID is considered international comparison is very difficult because context matters a lot. For the Kerala he said that tackling with COVID crisis the state won the battle but unfortunately lost the war due to political intervention due to elections.
Responding to a question on comparison with other states Mr Reni stated that decentralised governance system makes a real difference in Kerala and other states should learn from it.Also voluntarism and empathy part in Kerala are also other aspects which can be learned.
Responding to a question on stabilizing financial situation of the state Prof Vinoj stated that we need to look at the financial condition of the state as Kerala is already in very big financial trouble and the government of Kerala should look into providing income support to the poor people and some amount of monthly transfers should be given to at least people who are directly affected.
Responding to a question on vaccination Mr. T K Arun said that there is a global shortage of vaccination and thus without increasing the production and supply of vaccination with in India Kerala will not be able to get their vaccines.
Responding to a question response of social worker with respect to COVID pandemic Dr. Dilip said that whenever we talk about social worker response the response can be seen at individual level or a group, local level or at national level. He said that usually response becomes effective when they feel responsible for fellow citizens and have empathy towards doing it. When the response becomes institutionalized it becomes more concretized and more enforcement in terms of carrying out the work.
“The state needs to evolve its own strategy and its own policy measures and requires a completely new perspective.” Says Mr. John.
“Monthly grants should be given to vulnerable communities to support them in livelihood crisis.” Says Mr. Reni K Jacob and Mr. T.K Arun said that Kerala needs to have greater ambition of having its own biotechnology industry.