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Inside Kerala's war room on coronavirus

In its fight against COVID, Kerala has been ensuring smooth functioning of various services and sorting out grievances through a round-the-clock war room at the Secretariat. 

Published: 05th April 2020 01:12 PM  |   Last Updated: 05th April 2020 01:12 PM   |  A+A-

Image for representation.

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: 26-year old Manoj (name changed), a Kochi-based IT professional, was paralysed waist-down in an accident last year. He has been undergoing physiotherapy at a major hospital in Tamil Nadu. 

A couple of days into the lockdown, the hospital was converted into a COVID treatment zone. On the same day, accompanied by his mother, Manoj was being brought back to Kerala. Though it was difficult, they were able to pass through various checkposts and police pickets set up in Tamil Nadu, as they had been issued a travel permit online and an SUV was on standby on the Kerala side of the border since morning, waiting to take them back home. 

At Tirupur, they were however stopped by a Collector-led delegation. Inter-state travel was an unthinkable option, given his medical condition and the mother-son duo was asked to return. Meanwhile, his father, a top government official, was getting desperate on the other side of the border. That's when the matter came to the attention of a ministerial staff member (of another department), who in turn alerted the Chief Minister's Office. 
 
"I was asked to send a detailed mail. Within 12 minutes, the system started moving like a well-oiled machine. A senior official got in touch with his TN counterpart. It was first turned down, citing the emergency medical protocol in place. Soon the CM intervened. A call was made to the Tirupur Collector from the Chief Secretary's office. In no time, on condition that both of them would be in quarantine, they were allowed to cross the border," says the official who alerted the CMO.

A call to 0471-2517225, the Kerala war-room, is all it takes to bring various issues to the notice of the state government. In its fight against COVID, Kerala has been ensuring smooth functioning of various services and sorting out grievances through a round-the-clock war room at the Secretariat. 

It handles around 250 requests everyday, including around 120 calls, WhatsApp messages and requests directly routed to the CMO, cabinet ministers and senior officials. The war-room, which acts more like a mini-government with around 20 staff operating in shifts, including some eight IAS officers on a rotation basis, handles a slew of issues including logistics, transport, problems related to migrant labourers, medicine supply, stranded Keralites, shortage of essential commodities, foreigners' issues and travel woes. 

A visit to the war-room shows how meticulously planning is being carried out in all aspects. "Mostly inter-state and inter-district issues are routed to the war-room. We used to get around 120 calls from migrants, which has now dropped to around 50. Now these issues are directly dealt with by the state Labour department. There's also a Doctor among the staff. Health-related concerns are mostly directed to the Disha Helpline. A slew of officials from General Administration, Health, Police, Revenue, Labour, MVD, Food & Civil Supplies are on standby 24x7," said a senior official. 

A large chunk of issues to be resolved are the woes faced by migrant workers. Several bunches of excel-sheets are being churned out, consisting the worker's name and contact number, his actual state of domicile, current location, total number of such workers in a given area, grievances raised (deal mostly with food and ration), the officer contacted and the remedy extended to them - all these are mentioned in detail. At times, depending on the nature of the grievance, it could be transferred to another department or another government agency. In case of issues related to food supply, the workers are linked up with community kitchens. Similarly, shortage of provisions is being addressed through distribution of food kits. 

Till Saturday, 542 grievances related to 9730 workers which include 4013 from West Bengal, 460 from Assam, 1305 from Jharkhand, 1379 from Orissa, 512 from Bihar, 391 from Uttar Pradesh, 207 from Madhya Pradesh and 1663 from other states were routed through the state war room that is in place to deal with all such exigencies arising during the lockdown period.

A number of Whatsapp groups linking officials from across the country are operated where CMOs of various states, especially those in South India, are kept in the loop. The war-room also gets regular calls from stranded people - both Keralites and foreigners. 

It was a month ago that Vanaja Anand, a US-based writer, came to the state. Following fever, she was taken to the Kollam district hospital where she tested negative for COVID. Yet a month's quarantine was mandatory. Her sole contact in the state - Aji Krishnan of HRDS, an NGO in Attappady - offered to host her. She was sent there with a certificate from the DMO. 

At Mukkali near Attappady, the ambulance was stopped and was not permitted to move ahead, since Attappady is a sensitive area. After an hour's stand-off, the war-room was alerted. In no time, both the Palakkad Collector and the Ottappalam Sub Collector intervened in the matter. She was then shifted to a KTDC facility. "Updates were sent to all parties concerned on a real-time basis," said an official with the CMO. 

Hindrance to the movement of essentials at check-posts and issues faced by truck drivers too are being dealt with regularly. The war-room also ensures daily inflow, current stock position, movement at sourcing points and redressal of medicine shortage. 

"Truckers being stopped at check-posts in various states has been a regular affair. Most drivers have smartphones and they send us their contact details with GPS location, which are then passed on to the nearest official who then swings into action. And we are kept abreast of the progress made with real-time updates," pointed out a senior official coordinating the war-room.

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