Two days before the nationwide ‘janata curfew’ on March 22 — a precursor to a series of lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — the Wazirpur panchayat, on the outskirts of Gurugram, held a camp near the district’s AYUSH department and distributed ayurvedic medicine to villagers to boost their immunity.

Soon after the first lockdown was announced, the panchayat set up barriers and deployed locals to regulate entry of outsiders into the village.

They did not allow outside vegetables to be bought in for over a month and have sanitised the entire village thrice since the lockdowns began.

Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases in Gurugram, the village has not reported a single infection. The Prime Minister had recently asserted that the villages of India had taught a lesson to the cities in fighting the virus.

The data backs the assertion.

Handful of cases

In the 203 village panchayats in Gurugram — Haryana’s worst-hit district, accounting for nearly half of all cases in the State — only around two dozen COVID-19 cases have been reported so far. The district’s total geographical area is 1,258 sq km; rural area comprises 976.65 sq km, and the remaining 281.35 sq km is urban.

District Development and Panchayat Officer Narinder Sarwan told The Hindu that none of the villages had a COVID-19 case till May 31, but a few cases had been reported over the past one month since ‘Unlock 1.0’.

Wazirpur’s Sarpanch Sher Singh Chauhan explained how the panchayat had bought two thermal scanners to check those entering the village, and volunteers had been tasked to ensure that people do not venture out without a mask.

Mr. Chauhan said he keeps in touch with panchayat members to keep track of villagers exhibiting flu-like symptoms and makes sure they are examined for the virus without delay. He also monitors the village through CCTVs.

Besides Wazirpur, the villages of Hamirpur and Meoka also fall under the jurisdiction of this panchayat. They have a total population of around 4,000. Mr. Chauhan said even the jhuggi clusters on the outskirts of the village, which house a large number of construction workers, were sanitised twice.

Realising the importance of social distancing, Sikanderpur Badha panchayat has decided to impose a fine of ₹5,000 on those found violating the norms to curb the habit of playing cards and drinking hukkahs in groups. Also, when the panchayat realised that the large gatherings to distribute cooked food to migrants could lead to the spread of the virus, it discontinued the practice and distributed dry ration instead.

Those coming to the village have been told to go into compulsory quarantine at a government facility. After an employee with a car manufacturing company tested positive, the only case of COVID-19 in the village so far, his family members were quickly examined as part of contract tracing.

Sarpanch Sunder Singh claimed that announcements were made in the village asking people to stay indoors and directions given by the administration were adhered to. A few panchayats also took unanimous decision preventing villagers from supplying milk to urban areas during the lockdown.

Migrant labour

Since a large number of migrant workers employed in the automobile and garments sectors stay in these villages, the panchayats played a pivotal role in arranging food for them during the lockdown and later sending them off to their hometowns.

Mr. Chauhan said the panchayat arranged food for the workers in his village without any help from the administration, and around 1,000 workers, including seasonal workers visiting for harvesting Rabi crop, were also sent back.

He said the panchayat prepared a list of all the tenants in the village for better management.

According to a report on the performance of the District Development and Panchayat Office (Gurugram), 10 temporary shelters were set up at Manesar Gaushala, Bajghera Govt. School, Bharampur Govt. School, Ullawas Govt. School, Bhondsi Govt. School, Naya Gaon Govt. School, Hajipur Govt. School, Sultanpur Gram Sachivalya and Bhora Kalan Gram Sachivalya for stranded migrant workers and the homeless in view of the lockdown.

Community kitchens were set up in all the villages in coordination with the staff and the panchayats.

The district’s Palra panchayat led the villages in donating to the Haryana Corona Relief Fund, making contribution of ₹21 crore.

Mr. Singh attributes the success of the panchayats in dealing with the outbreak to the young and educated panchayat representatives. He emphasised that the average age of the sarpanches was 35 years and though the government had fixed a minimum qualification for the sarpanches, most of them were far more well-qualified. He, however, said the fight was still far from over and there was no time for them to sit and relax with the situation being dynamic.

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