By - Abhishek Dayal,
Director, PIB Imphal
The unprecedented global pandemic, Covid19, has tested the resolve and efficiency of all the governments across the world. India’s fight against the pandemic, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, began even before it was known to most people what this infection was all about. Since then, hundreds of path breaking decisions have been taken, relating to lockdown, social distancing, economic revival, assistance to the poorer sections, movement of migrant labour force and most important, tuning the medial health system to deal with the pandemic.
Manipur government has managed the difficult situation with alacrity and firmness. This is evident in its interventions and decisions in almost all spheres of our common fight against the spread of the pandemic. The situation is being monitored at the level of Chief Minister who oversees the efforts of Covid19 Task Force, State Consultative Committee and 12 specialised Covid19 response teams.
Border Fencing, state border management and lockdowns
The first crucial action taken by Manipur government was shielding and fencing of Indo-Myanmar international borders at Moreh and Behiang and strict vigil and screening at inter-state borders such as Mao, Jiribam, Jessami and other places along the porous Indo-Myanmar border at Ukhrul and Kamjong districts to regulate the inflow of tourists, passengers, and truckers. Daily screening of passengers at Mao and Jiribam and Imphal International Airport started right at the start of the pandemic in the country. All these steps were taken at the time when there were Zero cases in the whole of the North East region.
On the direction of the Central government, Manipur imposed a complete and successful lockdown all over the state on 24th March. Exceptions were given only for the movement and opening of essential services and essential goods. In later phases of lockdown, farming activities and limited commercial activities were started under strict social distancing norms. With the imposition of total lockdown, dedicated helplines were opened to receive queries and disseminate information to the general public. At no time were the citizens left helpless and without access to important information. It is to be noted that the people responded with responsibly and did their utmost at individual and community levels to make the lockdown a success.
The extent of involvement of State Government in managing the lockdown efficiently is reflected in the series of orders and regulations on physical distancing, strict enforcement of curfew, restricting movement of the public at various hotspots, penalising violators of curfew orders, relaxation of curfew, sanitization of cities and towns, spreading awareness through social media, print and electronic media, staggered opening of markets, and so on.
JNIMS Hospital was made the first Covid19 testing centre by upgrading its existing infrastructures. In the first week of March itself, the State Health Department geared up with the deployment of its Covid warriors - doctors, nurses, health workers, para medical staffs as frontline workers to combat the outbreak of virus. Later, RIMS Hospital and district hospitals of Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts were also upgraded as Covid-19 testing centres. The testing capacity of the state is being constantly ramped up, and as on date over 2500 tests are being done on a daily basis and now there is no backlog of tests.
Despite growing number of positive cases - the figure has crossed four digits - health care system has been able to cope up very well in the state. The rising numbers is not due to community transmission but due to the huge number of returnees who have brought the infection from worst affected parts of the country. The recovery rate is high and there has been no mortality so far. The frontline health workers have done a really excellent job of taking care of the patients despite threat to their own safety.
During the second week of June, 2020, the State Government established a 100 bedded COVID Care Centre at UNACCO School, a private school in Imphal West District, with admission of 19 patients being treated in this centre. The government plans for increasing the number of beds from 100 to 300. Necessary manpower is in place at the newly opened centre for proper care and treatment of patients.
Welfare and Economic Security
As can be appreciated, the poor are the most vulnerable at a time when earning opportunities come to a sudden halt. Central government initiated a massive Economic Welfare Package that not only directly helped the people but also gave money to state governments to work for the weakest sections of the society. Central government released Rs 6,195 crores to 14 state governments on June 10 as the third tranche of equated monthly installment of post devolution revenue deficit grant. The government had released similar amounts as first and second installments on April 3 and May 11 under Disaster Management Relief Fund to enable states to set up quarantine centres, facilitate testing, buy PPEs for Covid warriors and for other emergent needs. In April, Rs. 11,092 crores were given to states as first installment of State Disaster Risk Management Fund.
Needs of Agriculture and MSMEs were especially kept in mind while designing the unprecedented Economic Package as they are linked to the livelihood of millions of people. Fundamental policy changes were also made in these sectors to revive them and make them vibrant.These sectors are very important for a state like Manipur. There are many aspects of this economic intervention by the state, some of which can be noted here.
One of the significant highlight of the activities of Manipur Government during this period has been free distribution of PDS items and other essential commodities to the general public. Monitoring committees have been constituted for each assembly segment wherein the local MLA is the chairman. Each and every district administrator has established food banks where the affluent locals contribute food grains, essential edible items and vegetables to keep in buffer stock and later distributed to the poor and under privileged sections of the society. The regular supply of food grains and edible items to the general public is still continuing uninterrupted.
During the last week of March, 2020, the State Government appointed cabinet ministers in charge of 16 districts in order to physically monitor and ensure distribution of PDS rice and supplies of other essential commodities to the general public of sixteen districts. During this critical period, the State’s Horticulture Department opened outlets where organic vegetables, fruits and other edible items are sold to the public. One of the most striking events was exchange of edible items like food grains, vegetables and other essential items between the hill and valley people which led to emotional bondings and communal harmony.
“Chief Minister’s Covid-19 Relief Fund” was created for proper maintenance of affected public during the lockdown period. Deduction of one day’s salary from each government employee was made mandatory. Civil society organizations, business houses, social workers and Manipuri diaspora from abroad have generously donated to the relief fund. The fund is just a part of the huge economic relief efforts of the government during this time of crisis.
The very nature of lockdown made migrant workers - both in Manipur and of citizens of Manipur in other parts of the country - anxious to return to their homes. The State Government declared Manipur Bhawans at Guwahati and Kolkata as designated places for providing food and shelter for people who got stranded due to sudden lockdown. It was done free of cost and transportation arrangements were made for ferrying them to Imphal. Hundreds of Manipuri citizens in places like national capital were helped with free food and provisions by the state government officials.
In the middle week of March, 2020, a web portal Tengbang.com was opened to assess, monitor and redress the grievances of stranded Manipuris outside the State. The people are encouraged to register on the website and they were then helped in their homecoming through special trains from different cities of India upto Jiribam, a border town neighbouring Assam. Through this web portal, the State Government also transferred financial assistance to thousands of stranded students. So far, about forty-five thousand returnees from different cities of India have been transported by special trains as a result of the State Government’s initiative.
Management of returning population has been a challenging task. Daily screening of passengers at the designated places at Mao, Jiribam and Imphal International Airport started from the first week of March itself. Quarantine centres and isolation wards were opened before the outbreak of the pandemic in the State. Later, several community quarantine centres and institutional quarantine centres have been opened to cater the increasing number of returnees from outside the state. Management of quarantine centres is important and each MLA is appointed as the chairman of the quarantine centres and several committees constituting the Deputy Commissioner of the district, district police, sub-divisional officers, medical officers and staff.
The valiant fight of Manipuri people and the State government will ensure that the pandemic is contained and defeated with minimum distress to the people. It can be readily admitted that in these difficult times, the mettle of the people of Manipur has been sorely tested and that they have succeeded with flying colours.
(Facts and figures courtesy DIPR, Manipur Government)