Around two kilometres from cantonment town Mhow and around 25km to Covid-19 hotspot Indore, Kodariya Gram Panchayat in Madhya Pradesh has set an example by maintaining high-standards of social distancing and caution contrary to its high profile neighbour Indore where violation of norms is common.
With a population of around 25,000, the gram panchayat is a hub of potato chips (dry & raw) manufacturing units and attracts potato suppliers, traders and workers who find employment here.
However, soon after the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, the village was quick to enforce social distancing norms, regulating entry of outsiders and making locals aware about safety norms to tackle the threat of coronavirus. The result is visible as the village is yet to report a single case of infection.
This is in complete contrast to nearby cities of Indore and Mhow, which have been battered by the coronavirus infection.
In Kodariya, middle-aged sarpanch Anuradha Joshi, led from the front while imposing the norms after lockdown.
“Soon after lockdown, we had put up barricading and a check post at village entrance which is manned by local youths in three hour shifts and these youngsters don’t allow anyone enter the village without checking ID cards and enquiring about the purpose,” Joshi told News18 over phone. If required, these ‘village guards’ contact me on phone and I personally visit the check post to check with the visitors, she added.
On being asked how she went about making the locals aware about the coronavirus threat to start with, Joshi claimed that she used social media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp and even personally visited households. “We used to stand at main road of the village and make locals aware that they should be using masks and use precaution while meeting others outside village.”
(Locals stand guard at one the entries to the village.)
"The number of locals working in Pithampur (Mega industrial hub in neighbouring Dhar) have gone down drastically since the lockdown was enforced but 80-100 still report to work at pharma companies. These workers were briefed about personal safety and steps to be taken after reaching home, including using sanitisers, washing clothes in hot water, not entering homes immediately after return and so on,” said the woman sarpanch, who had worked as an insurance agent for years before contesting elections in 2015. She won the polls by a margin of 2,500 votes.
With persistent efforts, locals have imbibed the safety norms in their lifestyle, said Joshi claiming that locals remain at homes and also maintain social distancing in public space.
The sarpanch had even installed a big gate-like structure at village entrance to sprinkle sanitisers on those moving in and out of the village. But later the system was removed as physicians warned against the ill-effects of the chemical on people's skin.
On being asked how the erring locals were dealt, if any, the sarpanch smilingly said that initially these locals, only handful, were warned about norms in an affable manner but some of them only fell in line after the panchayat threatened to cut-off their supply of ration on defying lockdown norms.
To help out the poor amid lockdown, the panchayat used ration allocated by the state government and also used panchayat funds to extend help constantly.
However unlike other places, village economy has been shattered by the lockdown.
"The village has 161 dry potato chips manufacturing units and normally produce 6-7 lakh sacks (each having 18kg chips) but this year due to lockdown, we only could produce around 2lakh sacks of chips," said Manoj Saini, a chips manufacturer from Kodariya.
Besides sourcing potatoes from Indore and state mandis, the village units ensure supplies across the nation, which was hindered due to the lockdown as transportation is not available and their buyers have no cash inflow to make payments.
The manufacturers, mostly belonging to middle to low income groups, too were hit hard by cash crunch and had to borrow money to pay wages when the labourers left for their homes, Saini said. "Our 80% business has been destroyed and we are hoping to make slight recoveries when the lockdown prohibitions are gone," he added.
Meanwhile, the village units had ensured that labourers working here return to their native places with proper arrangements and were also paid their wages.