Srinagar, Apr 3: When 29 people returning from abroad skipped screening to avoid being quarantined, it set alarm bells ringing in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir as most of them had come from countries with significant number of COVID-19 patients.
Soon after, the surveillance teams were alerted and they started tracing these travellers. A few hours later, all 29 people were tracked and put in quarantine.
“Thank you, everyone, for your DMs and calls to control room. Medical, IT and Surveillance teams today were able to track 29 people coming from Bangkok, UK, Dubai, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, etc who skipped medical teams by changing routes or avoiding travel history. Love you all”, tweeted Dr. Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, district magistrate, Srinagar.
This is not an isolated case. Jammu and Kashmir has become the second-best in the country in the capacity building, quick response and public delivery to meet coronavirus challenge.
Leading this silent but spirited fight-back against COVID-19 in J&K is Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu. The media shy and reticent Murmu is putting all his administrative skills to work as he and his administration are battling an unseen enemy in a territory that has historically been hostile to government outreach.
So far, the LG led administration have done a reasonably well job.
Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, Finance Secretary Dr Arun Mehta, Financial Commissioner Health and Medical Education Atal Dulloo, Principal Secretary planning and Information Rohit Kansal and others have so far marshalled all their limited resources quite efficiently.
Many within the UT administration say it is perhaps for the first time that the response against the calamity is driven by bureaucrats and officers. Earlier the response was either driven by police or security forces. Floods of 2014 are the best example of a civilian government’s failure.
“We may not have an elected government in place, but we can surely say that the administration led by the Lt Governor has made the most of the limited resources available to them to fight this disease,” a top official at the helm of the fight-back told The Kashmir Monitor.
The official credited the “pressure-less” work environment “which enabled the administration to reach all the corners of the Union Territory without any local bias or controversy”.
“While one may say that having a government in place would have been better, that formation has its own loopholes as well. We usually see corruption and favouritism at its peak in such arrangements. We officers have one boss on paper and many bosses off it during such governments,” the official added.
The Lt Governor recently said his administration always has 100 percent control on the operation against containing the pandemic that has rattled some of the most advanced countries in the world.
“No direct assistance of army and paramilitary forces has currently been sought to control the situation, though CRPF is deployed with the local police to assist in maintaining restrictions during the lockdown,” Murmu told senior journalist Ashok Bagriya in an interview.
“3G facility by certain identified telecom providers with adequate precautions is currently available. The administration has ensured that the general public did not suffer due to the internet blockade by making available internet facilities in the office of district magistrates,” Murmu told Ashok when asked about internet restrictions.
Previous elected governments would outsource everything to security agencies and would trust district police chiefs rather than deputy commissioners. It’s different this time around.
Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Dr Shahid Choudhary has earned many fans for his work. His online availability has only made him more popular. Not many remember when was the last time doctors, paramedics, officers, lecturers, cops and municipality worked with such unity of purpose and dedication.
Tone, tenor, and delivery have changed since 2019. Not only is administration responsive but sympathetic too. It was evident by the fact when Government spokesperson Rohit Kansal expressed his feeling of being the harbinger of bad news.
“Tough to be a harbinger of unpleasant news. But being informed is being prepared…,” he tweeted on March 28. “Itna bas kar lo yakeen….bewafa hum nahin,” Kansal replied poetically when needled on Twitter about 4G restrictions.
Driving the change insiders say is Murmu himself.
Unlike his predecessor Satya Pal Malik who had a penchant for waddling into needless controversies Murmu goes about his job quietly allowing his team to take quick decisions, silently.
PK Pole, new Divisional Commissioner is signature Murmu.
Till Thursday Jammu and Kashmir had 70 positive cases, 65 of them active positive. Around 17677 travellers and persons in contact with suspected cases have been put under surveillance which includes 10694 persons under home quarantine, 622 in Hospital Quarantine, 65 in hospital isolation and 4109 under home surveillance. Besides, 2187 persons have completed their 28 days surveillance period.
Despite limited resources, Jammu and Kashmir is the only second after Kerala to have the highest rate of testing in the country.
“Our testing rate has been nearly 77.5 per million, one of the highest in the country and next only to Kerala. We have decided to further increase it. To begin with, we plan to test every single one of 2000 contacts that we have identified,” Kansal said.
Even the sworn critics are now applauding the administration for its response against the infection. “Government is doing a wonderful job. Despite limited resources and difficult terrain, the administration is reaching out to the people. I am satisfied with their response against the deadly virus. There are no two ways about it,” said Raman Sharma, a prominent RTI activist from Jammu.
Jammu and Kashmir government has also been at the forefront to provide relief to the people in lockdown. It was perhaps one of the few governments in the country which started home delivery of ration and essential commodities. It was the first to start helplines to reach out to the people. In the past, electricity and water were the first casualty in any crisis. This time around the services have seen no such disruption.
“Yes, in cities the administration was fast. I booked the LPG cylinder and despite lockdown, it was delivered at my home. But in far-flung areas people are facing difficulty,” said Sharma.
Murmu’s only public appearance so far on COVID-19 has been a web address. But he did tell officers in a meeting that so far the UT has been able to control the spread of virus due to the pro-active participation and support of people across J&K. A rare statement from the head of administration in J&K, that too an appointment made by North Block in New Delhi.
Those who know Murmu say he is a fitness freak and can run miles, so far in fighting COVID-19 he seems to have put all his energy in the right places.