CHENNAI: For a few months now, several arms of the government machinery have been working round the clock to control the spread of the pandemic and ensure the effectiveness of the consequent lockdown. While medical and health care workers ’ contributions get a good amount of attention, the other kind of essential works being carried out by the local bodies and its limited means sort of blends into the background.
Yet, if the lockdown continues to remain peaceful (mostly) and if it has in any way contributed to even slightly flattening the curve, we have our municipal workers to thank. From sanitising entire neighbourhoods to distributing essentials, they have put in place many a cog in this makeshift lockdown machine.
The work of the Greater Chennai Corporation in the times of the pandemic has been talked about. Yet, quite a few of the initiatives in place were adopted from the municipalities responsible for the administration of the suburbs — Avadi Corporation, and Tambaram and Pallavaram municipalities. These local bodies, with just 2,500 workers among them — 10 per cent of GCC’s 25,000-strong workforce — and minimal funding managed to roll out measure after measure to keep their wards safe.
Made in Tambaram
One of the first things addressed in the face of crisis was a means to offer reassurance — the supply of hand sanitisers. Even before the virus could reach the borders of the state, hand sanitisers were flying off the shelves in stores. Officials of the Tambaram Municipality stepped in and began adding to the supply chain.
“Using four simple ingredients — isopropyl alcohol, glycerol, hydrogen peroxide and distilled water — we were able to make effective sanitisers at Rs 100 a litre. We have supplied bottles at various public places for people to use as well,” says M Karuppaiah Raja, municipality commissioner. Till date, the officials have distributed around 4,000 litres.
Taking the sanitisation to a larger scale, water tankers with a capacity of 10,000 litres and equipped with giant nozzles have been assigned to spraying disinfectants along every street. Officials at the Tambaram office say that other states followed suit after pictures and videos of their effort was shared widely on social media.
When sanitisation was taken care of, they addressed the next big challenge of food and groceries.
“Even before the lockdown started, we closed nearly 250 shops and 100 fish stalls to keep people from gathering in one place. Later, we turned the playgrounds of two schools into makeshift markets, where people could buy vegetables and fruits in a disciplined manner (with minimal contact, keeping social distancing in mind),” he says.
For people who could not leave the house, they decided to get the groceries to them. As a pilot project, they began distributing bags of essential vegetables — bags worth Rs 50 or Rs 100 — at an apartment complex in Selaiyur a week ago. Around 20 vans distribute 4,000 bags every day, say, officials.
Each vegetable bag contains 11 vegetables like onions, tomatoes, brinjal, potato etc. Each bag weighs around 3 kg and is priced at Rs 100. The /Rs 50 bag will have half the quantity of the other bag. Twenty vehicles are deployed to distribute this, with two vehicles going to one ward.
Pallavaram Municipality practises this too. At Pallavaram, two Amma Canteens have been tasked with cooking 200 extra portions of food every day to feed the homeless.
From the horse’s mouth
Wearing the cloak of genuinity, the officials also focused on ensuring that people had the right information at every turn. While corporations have a wide social media presence, municipalities do not have that luxury.
To overcome this gap, the Pallavaram Municipality began circulating important messages to a residents’ federation that had under its ambit 400- odd resident associations. Details of provision stores in each area are also widely circulated through these associations’ WhatsApp groups. In Tambaram, officials send out four autorickshaws to do the job.
At the health front too, they have stepped up measures.
“We have fever surveillance teams of doctors and nurses, who go around every locality to check residents; especially senior citizens and those with a history of blood pressure and diabetes. If anyone has abnormal health conditions, they are immediately brought to the urban health centre,” notes Mathivanan C, commissioner of Pallavaram Municipality.