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Starting from 13 March till date the people of Odisha are daily briefed on the government’s policies, initiatives, and the entitlements of the people during the crisis. It is because of effective communication, the response from the public has been positive so far.

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IPRI # 59, 21 April 2020

COVID-19 and the Indian States
Odisha’s Three Principles: Prepare for the Worst, Prepare Early, Prevent Loss of Lives

  Anshuman Behera


‘Odisha is fully prepared for the worst. When there is a disaster the state turns into a single command chain, so there are no confusions’. These were the words of Asit Tripathy, Chief Secretary, Government of Odisha, highlighting the preparedness of Odisha state to minimise the risk posed by the outbreak of COVID-19. After a praiseworthy response to a devastating cyclone Fani in May 2019, the state seems to have prepared early in order to counter the risks posed by COVID-19. According to the official sources, the state started putting its acts together as soon as the first case in India was reported in Kerala in late January 2020. The early preparedness of Odisha began with preparing a detailed database of individuals travelling from the COVID-19 affected states and countries. A portal was created for the people who have travelled from abroad to register and each registered person was incentivised with Rs 15,000 for the 14 days compulsory quarantine. The first confirmed case was reported on 15 March, a student who returned from Italy. As on 15 April, Odisha is reported to have 41 active cases, 18 recoveries and one death. Out of 60 confirmed cases, a majority of 46 cases are from Khordha district, followed by Bhadrak with three cases. One of the first states to declare 70 per cent lockdown on 21 March, Odisha is under the second phase of lockdown till 3 May.

Odisha’s success of containing the COVID-19 cases to few pockets, so far, can be attributed to a robust disaster management mechanism that the state has been able to develop in the last two decades. Followed by the devastating experience of the super cyclone of 1999 and constantly challenged by natural disasters in some form or the other, Odisha has developed its disaster management capabilities, early warning mechanism, and more importantly a robust information dissemination system. This was evident from the fact that during cyclone Fani, the state was able to evacuate around 1.2 million people and was taken to safer locations within 24 hours. As the news of COVID-19 broke the state disaster management mechanism was on its toes to disseminate information on the severity of the virus. 

One of the important measures in this regard was appointing Subroto Bagchi as the Chief spokesperson of the government to brief people on the COVID-19 related issues daily. Starting from 13 March till date, the people of Odisha are daily briefed on the government’s policies, initiatives, and the entitlements of the people during the crisis. It is because of effective communication, the response from the public has been positive so far. At the governance level, the state government has taken the help of Mission Shakti in order to coordinate with the district administration and the Panchayats better. During the 48 hours complete shutdown of Bhubaneswar, Bhadrak and Cuttack, three major hotspots of COVID-19 related cases, the role of district administration was very crucial in making the shutdown successful.  

The state has also shown good preparedness in terms of putting its health infrastructure together. Considering Odisha as one of the poorest states in India, its health infrastructure hasn’t been up to the mark owing to various reasons. However, during this point of crisis, the state has been able to keep ready a 500-bed hospital for the COVID-19 patients in Bhubaneswar. The government has also tied up with private hospitals like the Kalinga Medicals in its fight against the coronavirus. In its effort to equip the public hospitals, 20 exclusive COVID-19 hospitals have been made operationalised with 3,420 beds in 18 districts. As the reports suggest, the number of exclusive COVID-19 hospitals will go up to 30 covering all the districts with 6,000 beds. The industrial and other business hubs, Rourkela, Jharsuguda, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Jajapur are being closely monitored. 

In order to win the trust of people, the government has taken several proactive initiatives. Under the Madhu Babu Pension Yojana, the government has released pension till July 2020 for 28 lakh beneficiaries, elderly persons, widows, and physically challenged. In the process of integrating the grassroot governance mechanisms, each Panchayat has been given an amount of Rs 5 lakhs to ensure safe drinking water, maintain hygiene and create social awareness among the people on COVID-19. In this aspect, the government has been able to get public cooperation to the extent that hardly any major incident violating the lockdown protocol has been reported so far. 

Along with its robust disaster management mechanism, Odisha government’s coordination with the Central government has also contributed to the containment of the COVID-19 cases. As reports suggest, the Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik is in constant touch with the Central government. Pinaki Mishra, a Member of Parliament from Puri, who represented the state government for a meeting with the Prime Minister, demanded additional gears for the health workers and more funding so that a poor state can fight such an unprecedented health hazard. 

Odisha, so far, has been able to contain the COVID-19 cases to an acceptable extent. However, given the poor health infrastructure in rural areas, the state administration will be put to test only when the cases arise and spread. The challenge before the government would be to contain the virus at urban centres and simultaneously develop the infrastructure around rural areas. One area where the government hasn’t focused enough is the unorganised sectors. With the majority of the labour force employed in the unorganised sector, the state administration needs to roll out a plan to accommodate these labour forces during the lockdown and afterwards. In terms of its early preparedness, Odisha has exhibited a good example which many states need to learn from. However, on the issue of the public health system, it might have to learn a thing or two from Kerala. 

 Dr Anshuman Behera is an Associate Professor, School of Conflict and Security Studies, at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. 
 


As of 22 April, 2020 India crossed the 20,000 mark in its total number of coronavirus affected cases with 645 deaths. The country heads to complete a month of complete lockdown and in this, while few states have been able to manage the health crisis, most are yet to recuperate. The International Peace Research Initiative (IPRI) at NIAS takes a critical look at the response readiness, mitigation abilities, societal perception and role of media in the different federal states in India while combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IPRI Series on “COVID-19 and Indian States” brings out the comparative narration and the larger picture on how India is addressing the pandemic. This initiative is undertaken by the IPRI in collaboration with the  Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS). The KAS -India Office is one of the principal partners of the IPRI and the IPRI network.

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