India’s districts are ground zero in the country’s war against the coronavirus. And administrative officers are rewriting the rulebook as they navigate the pandemic
All together: Konduru explains how barricading works to local elders outside the Karimnagar District Collectorate.
By the last week of March, the textile town of Bhilwara in Rajasthan had become a COVID-19 hotspot with 27 positive cases and two deaths. The district administration swung into action, implementing a ruthless lockdown strategy backed by a curfew. The district was isolated, hotspots identified, door-to-door screening along with aggressive contact tracing done while healthcare infrastructure such as quarantine facilities and isolation wards ramped up. To keep people indoors, essential items were delivered to residents at their doorstep. The result: Bhilwara has not reported a new case since March 30. Of the 27 people who were infected, 17 have recovered.
The Bhilwara model is being replicated in the state’s other districts and has received praise from the entire country. Behind the planning and implementation of this successful strategy was district magistrate Rajendra Bhatt. Like this 57-year-old officer, who was nominated to the IAS in 2007, many other administrative officers across India are playing a critical role in the country’s fight against the coronavirus. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Union government has been leading the national strategy, the districts are ground zero, where the real war is on. The district administrations are fighting it on many fronts and, amid all of it, every step must be taken to arrest the spread of the disease. The job doesn’t end at containment, they now have to hand-hold the country’s economic revival, and it starts with the factories and farms in their jurisdiction.
That’s where the leadership in the district comes into play. Like Bhatt, his colleagues across India have had to face the most unprecedented challenges in these past few days. The country’s poor health infrastructure and weak social security system have made their job more complicated as they walk the tightrope between saving lives and livelihoods. They have risen to the challenge, working unreasonable hours, thinking and innovating on their feet, and, when needed, donning the role of ruthless administrator. They have risked infection to stand by the health workers, municipal staff and police force. The 16 district warriors profiled here offer a glimpse of India’s frontline fight against COVID-19. Their stories are emblematic of the efforts and sacrifices of their many colleagues in districts across the country.