Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | How Odisha and Kerala are leading from the front in war against covid

In the battle against Covid-19, two Indian states, namely Odisha and Kerala, are drawing the attention of national and international media, governments and multilateral agencies.

As on April 25, by 11 am the number of infected people in Kerala were 450 and in Odisha 94. Out of these the number of active cases in Kerala were 116 and in Odisha 60. Number of death cases were three in Kerala and only one in Odisha. Number of samples tested in Kerala as on this date is 21,940 and in Odisha 23,433.

Although Kerala has relatively less population (about 3.5 crore) as compared to Odisha (about 4.5 crore), the former has more migrant workers as compared to the later. Moreover, Kerala reported the first positive case on January 30, and Odisha on March 17, by which time Kerala had 27 confirmed positive cases.

While Kerala is one of the most advanced states of India in terms of human development and monetary indicators like per capita income and expenditure, Odisha comes among the poorest states. Kerala has far better healthcare facilities both in public and private sector. Odisha’s health infrastructure would definitely not match with that of Kerala. In spite of the infrastructural bottlenecks of Odisha, the state is managing the health disaster like Covid-19 in a very effective way.

While Kerala reaps the benefit of good health infrastructure, higher social mobilisation, empowered local government, Odisha’s strength lies in disaster management, stable government and long lasting leadership of one chief minister Naveen Patnaik. The 1999 super cyclone which devastated coastal Odisha taught many lessons to the state administration to prepare itself to mitigate the future disasters.

Kerala is managing the health crisis with the help of government officials, local governments, volunteers coming from different religious groups, self-help groups (Kudumbashree), political parties, and trade unions. In Odisha, the crisis is mostly managed by the government employees of health and family welfare department, local primary school teachers, block level officers, and police. In absence of decentralization of power to panchayats and lack of capacity with local governments, Odisha government uses primary school teachers, ASHA and workers as the foot soldiers in all kinds of disaster management.

Due to high level of literacy and political mobilization in Kerala, the delivery of public goods like health care and social security measures are seen as rights of the citizen. However, in Odisha due to economic backwardness and lack of social mobilisation, the provision of public goods including access to health care, food security and rescue from the disasters are seen as the benevolence of the state. Similarly, during the times of crisis, the civil society in Kerala promptly comes forward in rescue operations considering this as a duty. However, Odisha uses paternalistic carrot and stick policy to nudge the people. For example, the government of Kerala ensured the tracking and isolation of the infected individuals with the help of volunteers and local government representatives. Government of Odisha announced to provide cash incentive of Rs.15, 000 with medical care to ensure the returnee migrants remain in home quarantine and legal proceedings against the violators.

The experience of Odisha in disaster management provides an upper hand to respond swiftly to any kind of disasters. For example, Odisha has been the first to impose lockdown in the state and restrict the public gathering by invoking powers under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Odisha was also the first state to declare COVID-19 as the “state disaster" under the provisions of Disaster Management Act 2005 before it was declared as the “national disaster". Similarly, Odisha has been the first state in setting up the exclusive COVID hospitals in public private partnership mode, announcing special financial benefits for all social security beneficiaries, releasing three months’ salary of all health workers engaged in the war against COVID-19, announcing to give martyrs’ honour to all health workers in case of death on duty. Odisha is readying 35 exclusive COVID-19 hospitals in 30 districts of the state with 5671 beds. The state has 352 ICUs and 15 sample testing centres, Keeping in view the possible return of all migrant workers to home, the state government has created 7494 quarantine facilities in all panchayats with 1,96,654 beds.

The better performance of both the states also provides further scope to learn from each other. Odisha needs to learn from Kerala to strengthen the local governments; at the same time Kerala can learn from Odisha to strengthen the capacity of disaster management apparatus.

(The author is a Reader of Economics at NISER, Bhubaneswar. The views expressed in this column are his own.)

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