A 2011-batch IAS officer Dr Aneesh Sekhar is well-known among the Madurai residents for his surprise inspections during his stint as Corporation Commissioner from June 2017 to February 2019. Taking charge as a district collector for the first time in his career, Aneesh Shekar tells Vinodh Arulappan about the strategy he adopted in containing the Covid pandemic and his vision for Madurai.
When you took charge the number of Covid-19 cases was at its peak in Madurai. What is the strategy you adopted?
On May 19 I took charge. On May 26, it reached its peak. We had 1,500 cases a day and today we have 300 cases per day. When I joined the urban cases were more or less coming down, the rural cases were increasing. We understood that that was going to be challenging and made a focused decision. In rural areas, we found people having a casual attitude. We involved local bodies and pressed 3,800 self-help groups into action. There are around 4 lakh households in the rural areas and we allocated 100 to 150 houses to each woman. We checked each house twice a week and identified the cases as quickly as possible. We have data on whether they are vaccinated or not.
Further, the stricter lockdown has helped us break the chain. We made sure that all the essentials are available to people so that they don't come out of the houses. We also made a conscious decision to identify the patients at an early stage and tested them early.
There were complaints that people were finding it difficult to find 108 ambulances, particularly in rural areas where there are only 37 ambulances each for a whole block. Is there any plan to improve ambulance services in rural services?
Yes, we have planned for this. All these were relevant issues when we had 1,500 cases. Still, we identified 10 additional ambulances and converted them into Covid ambulances. They are available even now.
There are complaints from several quarters against the private hospitals for charging exorbitant fees and demanding huge sums as advance before starting treatment. What actions have been taken so far?
There is a fee structure fixed by the government. We are closely monitoring the private hospitals. We have taken action against the hospitals and recovered excess charges collected by them and returned it to the patients. We warned these hospitals that they will be closed if such complaints arise again.
Has the pandemic affected the regular development work of the district?
Yes, of course. The regular life of people has been affected. The priority of the district administration also changes accordingly. Now our primary objective is to contain this wave. Once the pandemic settles, our focus will shift to other regular development activities. People should be vigilant and self-aware and should not get try to treat themselves.
What will be the strategy adopted after the relaxation of lockdown in the district?
We will continue our surveillance activity. House to house inspection will be done. Our primary aim is to identify the cases at an early stage so that we can avoid deaths. We will keep track of active cases and patients in home isolation. Now we are reporting 300 cases a day and we are trying to bring it to zero.
Being a doctor, what do you think about predictions of a third wave?
It may or may not come. Nobody can predict that. But we have to be prepared. Whatever happened in the western countries has happened in India after a gap of two or three months. We have increased our bed capacity. We are setting up eight to 10 oxygen-generating plants to become self-sufficient in terms of medical oxygen. We are proactively trying to get a dedicated children's ICU and wards done, as there is a notion that the third wave could affect children too. Also, we are planning for an aggressive vaccination drive for vulnerable sections, whenever we receive our district's share of vaccines. We are working on increasing the ICU beds too.
What are your plans for Madurai?
Madurai has a lot of potential to become a good tier 2 city. My focus would be on bringing more investment into this district and making it an economic hub. We have all the resources for that and at present we are on the right path for that. The Rs 1000 crore Mullaiperiyar project will satisfy the water needs of Madurai. My focus will be on the service sector. Be it, tourism, hospitality, medical tourism, we have space and infrastructure. The Chennai-Kanniyakumari corridor will by itself make Madurai an industrial corridor. AIIMS is on the way. We have an airport and ports are near. We have good social infrastructure and it will be utilised properly in an organised manner. All these will put Madurai on the national map.