Center to Punjab in times of Covid-19: The Report

Introduction :

As countries shore up existing safeguards to address the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, India faces a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented proportions. Ninety per cent of the Indian workforce is employed in the unorganized sector; uncounted millions work in urban areas at great distances from rural homes. When the Government of India (GOI) announced the sudden ‘lockdown’ in March to contain the spread of the pandemic, migrant informal workers were mired in a survival crisis, through income loss, hunger, destitution and persecution from authorities policing containment and fearful communities maintaining ‘social distance’.

Adopting a multi-pronged cross-departmental approach, supported by the collective expertise and experience of specialists as well as frontline workers, we, in Punjab, moved quickly at the outset to put in place a seamless system for managing the challenges of the lockdown, and of gradually opening up the state thereafter.

From procurement and distribution of health and medical supplies and essential commodities, to managing migrant movement, ensuring access to online education and expeditiously digitalising critical services, we dug deep into the core of our resilience and strengths to respond to the multitude of challenges with efficacy.

Drawing strength from our courageous and hard-working citizens, who we believe to be Punjab’s biggest asset, we relentlessly navigated the multiple challenges with positivity and passion. The State has adopted a cross-departmental approach informulation and implementation of COVID-19 protocols geared towards engineering a sustainable ecosystem for co-existing with COVID-19.

The State has set forth novel strategies curated to sensitize, motivate and inspire citizens to collaboratively combat the deadly virus, through virtual awareness platforms, digital campaigns, and institutionalization of health, educational, agricultural, industrial and employment operations both in the rural and urban areas. Punjab converted the challenge posed by COVID-19 into an opportunity by innovating and repurposing industrial production towards swift manufacture of safety equipment for front-line workers during the lockdown.

Punjab has developed a State-of -the-art digital application COVA, tailored to cater to the current needs of the essential sectors especially the health sector through integration of aspects such as contact tracing and geo-fencing. The digital platform was also used for regulating functional facets encompassing migrant labour movement, employment generation, agricultural procurement, education etc thereby creating an interconnected digital fabric comprising of diverse sectoral weaves.

Even before the lockdown, the Government of Punjab had already instituted a state-wide curfew, and the promotion of prevention measures such as frequent handwashing and physical distancing, IEC activities and contact tracing of confirmed cases using technology had already commenced.

The first case in Punjab was reported on 9thMarch 2020, following which, the state government initiated prompt action. Punjab took the lead in instituting many successful policies and responses– the state government set up various high level committees to spearhead the COVID-19 response.

Initiatives undertaken by Punjab:

• Punjab was among the first few states in India to approve Plasma treatment for critical COVID-19 patients in hospitals. The first Plasma Bank was inaugurated on 21 July 2020 at Rajindra Hospital, Patiala.
• The Government of Punjab provided subsidies up to 50% on the purchase of machinery to help farmers to tackle the problem of labour scarcity amid COVID-19.

• The first COVID-19 related mobile app in India was launched on 9th March 2020, with geotagging and geofencing features. 11 other states have requested Punjab for backend access.
• Punjab is the first state in the country to have an N-95 mask manufacturer with both DRDO and BIS certification.
• Ghar Ghar Rozgar & Karobar Missions were initiated to facilitate employment for the benefit of both employers and prospective employees.
• Over 53,000 Anganwadi workers and helpers across the state are playing a leading role in the ‘Mission Fateh’ awareness campaign, supporting surveillance efforts, and working to provide regular healthcare services, particularly mother and child health-related.

The Report :

This report provides an account of Punjab’s battle against COVID-19. It is organized into ten chapters, each focused on a specific thematic thread.

Chapter 2, ‘Institutional mechanisms’, provides an overview of the high-level committees constituted by the Cabinet to combat COVID-19, highlighting key actions taken by each committee.

Chapter 3, ‘Tackling lockdown related challenges’ details the progression of the lockdown in Punjab, challenges to its enforcement, and the efforts that went into ensuring supply and delivery of essential goods was not disrupted. As a result of the lockdown, migrants across the country faced difficulties in returning to their hometowns, or alternatively, making arrangements to stay where they were.

Chapter 4, ‘Supporting stranded people’, spotlights the state government’s efforts to support this group of people— both those attempting to exit the state and those seeking to return.

Chapter 5, ‘Building resilient health ecosystems’ chronicles the development of public health care measures taken to mitigate COVID-19 in Punjab. History will look back on this moment of crisis and judge government responses on their ability to innovate and deploy technologies in innovative ways.

Chapter 6, ‘Leveraging digital technologies, provides an overview of IT initiatives implemented by the state during the first phase of the pandemic, including the COVA application designed in light of the pandemic. Embracing a whole of government approach, various different departments came together to tackle the emergency collectively.

Chapter 7, ‘Interdepartmental convergence’ highlights these efforts.

Chapter 8, ‘Agriculture and wheat procurement’ is a deep dive into Punjab’s wheat procurement exercise, carried out in the middle of the lockdown, without a single COVID-19 case reported.

Chapter 9, ‘Providing relief measures’, outlines relief initiatives by the government as well as financial support provided by the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF). Lastly,

Chapter 10, ‘Looking back, moving forward’ presents initial recommendations put forth by the Expert Committee constituted by the Hon’ble CM to look into strategies to recover from the pandemic in the medium and long term.

This report should be read as a documentation of policy initiatives and response in Punjab during the first phase of the pandemic, highlighting best practices and reflecting on challenges overcome.

Two additional points on the scope of this report should be mentioned. Firstly, a crisis of this scale has demanded a pro-active and hands-on approach like never before. Secondly, Punjab is a large and diverse state, comprised of twenty-two separate districts. This report documents efforts at the state level, but there are many meaningful initiatives that have been taken at the district and sub-district level to manage the pandemic.

The Hon’ble Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh provided his able guidance through which the DGP, Punjab appointed officers of the rank of IG, DIG and AIG as state level Police Coordinators, and ADGPs as State Level Police Supervisory Officers for coordinating various curfew related tasks. With the coordination of these officers across the districts, Punjab Police successfully implemented curfew /lockdown in the state by deploying more than 40,000 police personnel and 12,000+ civil volunteers.

A special team headed by ADGP ranked officer was constituted by the police department to monitor all social media platforms and to check for any fake news or rumour affecting citizens during the lockdown.
As the State of Punjab is aggressively combating with COVID-19, the Punjab Police brought in innovative approaches for educating the public and enforcing the COVID-19 protocols.

The Government of Punjab launched Mission Fateh on the Coronavirus alert application to encourage citizens to continue to observe the COVID-19 precautions and protocols to stop the transmission of the virus. 178 drones were used for surveillance during the lockdown across 27 district wide locations to enable effectual monitoring across the State. The government of Punjab worked to reduce the hardships of all people stranded during the lockdown.

The Departments synergised to configure a multi-utility application COVA, that provides cognizance on travel and preventive care advisories. Further, it renders geographic information corresponding to the nearest hospital and is also equipped with a ‘check-your-health status’ feature.
contact tracing, Issuance of e-passes, Geo-fencing, Chat- BOT, Healthcare connect, Traveller registration, Online Labour registration, Realtime dashboard.

A Punjab Police officer, ACP Anil Kohli was a COVID warrior, who lost his battle for life on 18thApril 2020 to the deadly virus while undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Ludhiana. Notably, he was the first police officer in the country to succumb to COVID-19. Harjeet Singh is a policeman whose hand was chopped off with a sword while he was imposing curfew restrictions in Patiala to stem the COVID-19 spread.

Wastages :

• disposal of biomedical waste in COVID-19 Isolation wards Keep separate color coded bins/bags/containers in wards and maintain proper segregation of waste as per BMWM Rules, 2016 as amended and CPCB guidelines for implementation of BMW Management Rules.

• As precaution, double layered bags should be used for collection of waste from COVID-19 isolation wards so as to ensure adequate strength and no-leaks.

• Collect and store biomedical waste separately prior to handing over the same to CBWTF. Use a dedicated collection bin labelled as “COVID-19” to store COVID-19 waste and keep separately in temporary storage room prior to handing over to authorized staff of CBWTF.

•Bags/containers used for collecting biomedical waste from COVID-19 wards, should be labelled as “COVID-19 Waste”. Use dedicated trolleys and collection bins in COVID-19 isolation wards.

• General waste not having contamination should be disposed as solid waste as per SWM Rules, 2016 The (inner and outer) surface of containers/bins/trolleys used for storage of COVID-19 waste should be disinfected with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution daily.

•General solid waste (household waste) generated from quarantine centres/camps should be handed over to waste collector identified by Urban Local Bodies or as per the prevailing local method of disposing general solid waste.

• Biomedical waste if any generated from quarantine centres/camps should be collected separately in yellow colored bags (suitable for biomedical waste collection) provided by ULBs. These bags can be placed in separate and dedicated dust-bins of appropriate size.

Persons operating Quarantine camps/centres should call the CBWTF operator to collect biomedical waste as and when it gets generated, and should deposit biomedical waste generated from suspected or recovered COVID-19 patients, by following any of the following methods as may be arranged by ULBs:

•  Hand over the yellow bags containing biomedical waste to authorized waste collectors at door steps engaged by local bodies
• Deposit biomedical waste in yellow bags at designated deposition centres established by ULBs
• Handover the biomedical waste to waste collector engaged by CBWTF operator at the doorstep.

•Bio Medical Waste generated by the dispensaries of Rural development and Panchayats Department will come to the nearest CHC of the Health and Family Welfare Department, properly packed as per protocol.
•The concerned CHC will issue a receipt to the concerned Rural Dispensary on receipt of Bio Medical Waste.
•The CHC will ensure that the Bio Medical Waste thus received is disposed of as per PPCB guidelines through Common Bio Medical waste Treatment and Disposal Facility (CBWTF).
•Any Bio Medical Waste that is not properly packed will not be received by the CHC.
•As the Bio Medical Waste being generated by the Rural Dispensaries is negligible, i.e., less than 500 grams. The concerned CHC will make payments to Common Bio Medical waste Treatment and Disposable Facility (CBWTF) as per agreement until and unless the waste generated in Rural Dispensaries is not negligible, i.e. more than 500 gms.

The PMIDC has been implementing SWM operations in urban areas of the State through the ULBs. IEC being one of the key components, SBM-U has been given priority for behaviour change communication for sustained sanitation. Engaging citizens to adopt good practices like segregation of waste at source, giving waste only to authorised door-to-door waste collector, restriction on littering to stop creation of Garbage Vulnerable Points are some of the milestones achieved by the department.

Planning for management of activities conducted by the Department involved the staff to undertake trainings on the following aspects:
• Adherence to advisories in order to comply with the permissible activities.
• Management of waste with Minimal Human Touch.
• Basic Sanitation including Handwashing, safe disposal of waste, use of PPE kits.
• Multivitamin & Zinc supplementation course for self care.
• Designing effective travel plans to ensure safety while passing through the containment zones.

To supplement the planning and human workforce deployed on-ground, procurement of the following was done :
• Battery operated spray pumps • Sanitization machines • Sanitizers • PPE kits • Spray canon tractor • Thermal scanner.

Even during the unprecedented times of COVID-19, absolute sanitation and uninterrupted waste management activities were carried out by the Swachhata Warriors – who acted as the real chevaliers.

Case Laws :

  • Tarlok Nath vs State Of Punjab on 30 June, 2021
  • Gurpreet Singh vs State Of Punjab And Others on 22 September, 2020
  • M/S Keerti Flour Mills Pvt. Ltd vs State Of Punjab And Others on 9 October, 2020
  • Avtar Singh @ Rinku Bhatia vs State Of Punjab And Another on 23 December, 2020
  • Rajendra Chaurasia vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh on 23 July, 2021
  • Varinder Kaur Passi vs State Of Punjab And Others on 31 August, 2021

Reference :

Author: Megha Jain

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