The battle against coronavirus has reached interiors of Punjab where villagers have taken upon themselves to establish roadblocks and checkposts manned 24 hours a day in order to keep outsiders away from the villages and also to keep a tab on who enters and leaves the locality.
The Indian Express went around Nurpur Bedi block of Ropar district and found that village after village has ‘fortified’ itself and is taking active measures to defend themselves from the coronavirus infection.
At village Sarthali, a boom barrier has been set up on the main entry and exit point from the village. Rest of the roads have been permanently blocked using trolleys which have been parked across the road.
At the barrier, half a dozen villagers are sitting around watching every movement on the main road, just a few metres away. A bottle of hand sanitiser and a register are conspicuously placed on a table nearby.
“We are writing down the names of all the people who leave the village and enter it along with the timings. This way we can keep a tab on who comes and goes and for what length of time. We do not want any outsider to come into the village,” says Thekedar Rampal of the village.
He adds that the barriers have been set up only a day before after the villagers decided that it was necessary to take all precautions. “Even a resident of the village who is returning from outside Punjab will not be allowed to enter the village. We will ask him to report to the nearest quarantine centre of the government and stay there for 14 days first,” said Narinder Pal, a villager who works with the Health Department.
Further down the road towards Ropar, a large crowd is gathered at outskirts of Madhopur village. Here again a check post has been established and manned by the village youth.
“Two outsiders were seen approaching the village. We did not allow them to enter. However, since they were hungry we took them to the gurdwara nearby and fed them. A lot of migrants who work in Himachal Pradesh pass through this road trying to go back to their homes in Uttar Pradesh,” said a village youth.
The village has a population of around 1,400 and has also taken the initiative of spraying disinfectants with the help of the Block Development and Panchayat Officer (BDPO).
“Apart from the supplies given to us by the BDPO we have also used neem leaves to prepare a disinfectant of our own and have sprayed it in the village,” said Amardeep Singh.
Similar sights could be seen at Bajrur, Abiana, Nangal, Dahirpur, Bhatton, Dhahan and Bhogpur villages. Village after village has barriers erected and passers-by who wished to go through the village to reach another village, including this correspondent, had their credentials verified.
Ropar SSP Swapnil Sharma maintains that the district police have approached the villagers in order to motivate them to self- isolate.
“The pre-emptive strategy, with involvement of 1200 volunteers, has definitely worked given the district surrounded with three hotspots has stayed safe till now. With 440 foreign-returned individuals under quarantine; out of 14 suspected samples, 11 have already tested negative. Test results of other three are awaited,” Sharma said.
The SSP added that youth clubs and volunteers have been roped in with help from panchayats for this who are leading the vigil at 424 villages.
“These volunteers are being directed and informed about the latest guideline and procedures through social media groups which are administered from the police war room in district headquarters,” he said.
While the police claims that 30,000 packets of food had been distributed in the district, in Nurpur Bedi Block there were several villages where the common refrain was that the farm labour, mainly migrant workers, who were maning tubewells in farmlands at isolated places, had not received any help at all.
“These labourers are being given food by the villagers till now. However, with essential items in short supply, how long can we continue to do so. There are hundreds of such labourers in each village. The district administration or the police must make a list of such labourers and ensure that they get food supplies at regular intervals,” said Arun at village Sarthali.
Speaking to The Indian Express, SSP Swapnil Sharma said that the district police are aware of the issue of farm labourers who are staying in farms.
“With the help of youth clubs in villages, we are distributing food items twice a day. There are around 3,200 farm labourers in 619 villages in the district. These labourers include migrants too who have been motivated to stay back and also villagers from surrounding areas. Those who can cook are facing problem of kerosene as it is in short supply, but we have spoken to the forest department to allow them to collect wood for use a fuel to cook food. But if there are some who have been left out we will look into it and address the problem” he said.
The SSP claimed that at any point of time 500 food packets of dry ration are readily available in district police office. “One packet is enough for 14 meals. Whenever there is a distress call on 112 regarding food, dedicated teams of district police swing in action and provide food packets to the needy,” he said.
Referring to the self-isolation drive of the villagers, Sharma said that there were three types of duties which were being done. “One is the six to eight hour shift that is done at the village check point. Second is the roster for supplying food to the needy people. And third is the village-level police officer who is directly connected to police control room and also to village numberdar, chowkidar and village granthi who can make announcements in gurdwara to make people aware of any development,” he said.
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