In rare move, Centre turns to young IAS officers to up Covid-19 battle
In a report, the civil servants have “encouraged” the domestic production of coronavirus testing kits.The bureaucrats have also pitched for a regular mapping of quarantined people by creating a database that is shared at district level.
Bureaucrats across the country have offered a host of suggestions such as indigenously producing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) testing kits and ventilators as well as ending the 21-day nationwide lockdown, which began on March 25 to combat the pandemic, in a phased manner.
In a survey, conducted by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG), 266 Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers submitted their suggestions and identified Covid-19 hotspots across 16 states. They flagged crucial gaps such as an acute shortage of medical staff, equipment, and facilities like intensive care unit (ICU) beds at hospitals, ventilators, ambulances, oxygen cylinders. They also underlined the hardships faced by people in their daily lives because of the lockdown at such a short notice.
The bureaucrats also pointed out the lack of quarantine, isolation and testing facilities. “Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, etc; for the medical staff are an area of major concern for several districts and across states,” the National Preparedness Survey report, seen by Hindustan Times, said.
The Union Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Jitendra Singh, along with K Shivaji, secretary, DARPG, and V. Srinivas, additional secretary, DARPG, will release the report on Thursday.
The survey was conducted between March 25 and 30, where 410 district collectors and IAS officers, who belong to batches between 2014 and 2018 and have served as assistant secretaries, registered for the nationwide exercise. Altogether, 266 bureaucrats submitted completed reports to the DARPG.
“This is the feedback we have received from across the country,” a DARPG official told Hindustan Times. “This the situation on the ground. We want to highlight the gaps in our fight against Covid-19. The suggestions have been noted and will be addressed appropriately,” he added.
According to the report, the civil servants have “encouraged” the domestic production of testing kits. “It has been suggested that testing kits and ventilators be manufactured in the country,” the official mentioned above said.
The respondents have recommended that issues related to procurement, logistics and supply chain of medical equipment should be addressed on a priority basis to bridge the massive demand-supply gap. More testing centres, including separate facilities for rural areas, and isolation wards should be set up to help prevent further transmission, the report said.
The bureaucrats have also suggested using the expertise of health care start-ups to fight the pandemic.
“Other countries are doing this as well,” BS Baswan, said a former director of Indian Institute of Public Administration. “Many are retooling the engineering sector in a bid to take care of the mechanical aspect of producing ventilators. It’s important to take advantage of global innovations and cater to growing needs such as testing kits and isolation wards,” he added.
The bureaucrats have pitched for a regular mapping of quarantined people by creating a database that is shared at district level. There is a “need to coordinate with big data analytic firms for studying state-wise patterns, identifying areas of infection and disseminating the information through media”, the report said.
“The respondents suggested an increase in the fiscal spending (around Rs 5-10 trillion, or 2% of GDP) on health care infrastructure, essential commodities for the poor and vulnerable sections in the society,” it added. Other economic relief could include partially waiving commercial rent of shops during the lockdown period, they suggested.
The bureaucrats have recommended issuing “standard operating procedures and guidelines for inter-state movement of people across state borders considering temporary/migrant workers’ exodus after the nationwide lockdown”. They have also urged the government to come up with relief packages and ensure food supplies to daily wagers.
“Lockdown should be continued until the Covid-19 is not controlled. Any instances of non-adherence to lockdown should be dealt with harshly, particularly, where there is a gathering of over 50 people,” the report said.
Research is also one of the key areas that the civil servants believe will provide a long-term solution to fight the viral outbreak. “The government should strengthen the research and development facilities to develop vaccines to fight Covid-19 with a long-term solution. Research institutes may be given all the necessary support and increased funding,” it said.
The bureaucrats are in favour of doing away with the ongoing lockdown in a phased manner, suggesting the government lift it in states that have stopped reporting fresh Covid-19 positive cases.
“A majority of districts across the country highlighted the shortage of medical staff, equipment and facilities like ICU beds, ventilators, ambulances, oxygen cylinders etc. The sub-district hospitals and health centres’ readiness is an area of focus, particularly in the north-eastern region,” the report said.
The bureaucrats noted that there was a lack of awareness about Covid-19 among people living in backward districts and the tribal population.
They have also flagged other concerns such as migrant workers’ unwillingness to adhere to the lockdown, inadequate sanitisation of public places and people hiding their travel histories.