In Odisha’s battle against Covid-19, sarpanchs have been at the forefront. As lockdown continued and migrant workers traced their steps back home, it is the panchayat heads who stepped up. When Kalahandi felt the heat of reverse migration, district’s youngest sarpanch Madhuchhanda Bhanja shouldered the responsibility of three temporary medical centres (TMCs) in Bandhkana gram panchayat.
From registration of each and every person returning to Bandhkana, setting up the TMCs at Churagaon, Bandhakana and, Tamra villages, arranging logistics and personnel to manage the centres besides ensuring 14-day quarantine of the returnees, Madhu was on the job round the clock.
“Managing a TMC does not just mean providing food to the inmates. From ensuring discipline in the facilities, proper disposal of solid waste since there is a risk of coronavirus spreading to adjoining areas due to poor sanitation, one has to look into every detail. Fortunately, I was assisted by a team of dedicated workers who helped take up the responsibilities during the pandemic with sheer commitment”, says the 31-year-old sarpanch who earned appreciation from the district administration and locals for her community-based monitoring strategy to contain the health crisis in her area.
From April till July when migrant influx continued in the district, Madhu handled registration and isolation of around 152 persons. She recalls an instance when 55 labourers returned from Gujarat and none wanted to be quarantined in TMCs away from their villages.
“All of them were aggressive, abusive and refused to cooperate. It took a lot of persuasion to make them understand that isolation was for their own good and safety of their families”, says the sarpanch.
Interestingly, Madhu hails from Daringbadi in Kandhamal district. She had enrolled to study Plus II but could not complete the two-year course since a day before her final examination, her parents married her off to Sukhadev Bhanja, a farmer of Bandhkana, in 2010. She accepted her fate but continued to pursue interest in social work. Madhu took over as the Bandhakana sarpanch in 2017.
Apart from handling the migrant situation, she made sure no villager went hungry during these difficult times by ensuring that the poor have access to ration promised by the State Government. She started community kitchens to feed the hungry and engaged volunteers for food preparation and distribution with adherence to social distancing.
During the initial months of the coronavirus outbreak, Madhu recounts, people were educated about the virus was and how its transmission takes place. “The process continues till date”, says the sarpanch who is taking all measures to ensure that the virus stays away from her gram panchayat. Every day, she tours 11 wards and three villages under her gram panchayat, going door-to-door to educate villagers on ways to protect themselves and symptoms of Covid-19. The villagers are made aware of importance of masks, soaps and sanitisers. Madhu and other grassroots level workers frequently organise mask distribution and awareness drives among villagers. The move, she says, has helped keep the villagers alert and safe.
The 31-year-old makes sure isolation and Covid-19 safety norms are being followed by one and all. Since March-end, 20 positive cases were detected in her gram panchayat and there are only three active cases now.
The only thing that worries her is the safety of her family that comprises two minor children, husband and father-in-law. “I never take my mask off and sanitise hands at regular intervals. That is how I can keep myself and my people safe”, she says, adding that her family has always been supportive of her work.