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Amid second wave, DDCs say no clarity on Covid responsibilities

On Wednesday, active cases in Jammu and Kashmir crossed 50,000, up more than six times since a month ago, when the Union Territory had less than 8,000 active cases.

Written by Naveed Iqbal | Srinagar |
Updated: May 14, 2021 4:58:28 am
Relatives of Covid-19 patients in line for food outside the Govt Medical College and Hospital in Jammu on Thursday. (PTI)

Five months after they were elected, members of the District Development Councils across Kashmir are waiting for clarity on their role amidst the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, active cases in Jammu and Kashmir crossed 50,000, up more than six times since a month ago, when the Union Territory had less than 8,000 active cases. The 10 districts of the Valley account for over 32,000 of the total active cases in J&K, with much of the caseload in Srinagar (10,755) and Baramulla (4,091).

The UT’s Covid Task Force is headed by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and includes members of the bureaucracy and the J&K police. Orders are passed along to the district Deputy Commissioners, who coordinate with health officials and doctors.

A crisis management group headed by Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam was set up this month and comprises finance commissioners and principal secretaries. There are also other committees for procurement of medical equipment and monitoring the situation on the ground, but no elected members are part of any of these committees or efforts.

DDC chairman for the Baramulla council, Safeena Beig, told The Indian Express that “although the LG is trying to involve everyone and has asked all of us to contribute, the situation on the ground is different.”

Saying panches and sarpanches can be called upon to assist the government in the vaccination drive and to help patients get to hospitals, Beig said, “The government should instruct the Deputy Commissioners to utilise public representatives. The institutions are already present on the ground.”

Director, Rural Development (Kashmir), Tariq Ahmad Zargar told The Indian Express that while panchayati raj institutions are being included in raising awareness regarding Covid-appropriate behaviour, their involvement at any other level would have to go through the Deputy Commissioners of each district.

In Baramulla, Beg said that she has been writing to the district Deputy Commissioner but is yet to receive any response to her suggestions. “We do what we can at our level. I have been visiting hospitals and we have also earmarked some amount out of the Area Development Fund to provide for equipment in hospitals,” Beig said.

In Anantnag, with active Covid cases over 3,700, DDC chairman Mohammad Yousuf Gorsi said the council is spending Rs 40 lakh from its budget to provide oxygen, X-ray machines and other equipment for hospitals and is alerting panchayats to assist people in areas where help is scarce.

In December 2020, members were elected to DDCs as part of the first electoral exercise in the UT since revocation of special status to the former state. In the absence of an Assembly, the process was touted as the expansion of grassroots democracy in the UT.

Yet, five months later, the DDCs complain of physical and administrative hurdles to their functioning. Several DDC chairmen have not been assigned office space, and many of the councils have not even met once since the elections.

Srinagar DDC chairman Malik Aftab said he is “stuck in a room in the circuit house” and hasn’t been able to call the council members for meetings since the space allotted to him “has not been made operational”.

Kulgam DDC chairman Mohammad Afzal Parray (CPI-M) said that “while hospitals report shortage of space and oxygen, officers of the UT government are not open to inviting DDCs in the drive to contain the spread of the virus.”

Stating that when people voted in the DDC elections, “it was out of a sense of bureaucratic fatigue. People are dependent on us more than the bureaucracy, yet none of the issues we have taken up have been addressed”.

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