Why Kerala stands apart

Print edition : May 08, 2020

THE measures taken up in Kerala differ from those in other States in three respects: (1) effective health measures, (2) successful distribution of food, essential supplies, and income support measures, and (3) active State support for agricultural production. These aspects of public administration were already in robust and functioning form and had only to be re-oriented and resourced to address the challenges of the lockdown.

First, the respondents across different classes spoke about a functioning public health centre in their village panchayat, at a distance of around 3 km from their respective villages. They had phone numbers of the health centre, of ASHA workers, or of the State helpline to seek emergency medical services. While the respondents (like those in all the other villages ) in general were aware of COVID-19 and related health issues through TV and newspapers, the respondents themselves were following the prevention protocols to slow down the spread of the disease. This is a reflection of the fact that the Government of Kerala went into detection-and-prevention mode in January itself, when the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the State. The respondents pointed out that wash basins with soaps and sanitisers were installed in common public places. They were not aware of specific COVID-19 tests being undertaken in the village, but all respondents noted that quarantine measures were followed strictly by those who had returned from abroad with the help of regular monitoring and instructions from health workers in the village panchayat.

Secondly, all respondent households had access to the public distribution system and had received the free ration of 15 kg rice per household at the time of the survey. This stands in contrast to the situation in other States; many of them are yet to even distribute food grains, according to respondents. The Kerala respondents were also aware of a functioning community kitchen run within the village panchayat building from where cooked food was being distributed to eligible households.

While the distribution of grocery kits containing 17 essential items had not yet begun in Adat village, the respondents were aware of this and expected to receive the kits soon. Respondents stated that their family members had received welfare pensions for two months in advance.

Thirdly, the State procurement system had covered all farmers, and an assured price was offered for rice, the major agricultural produce of the village. This measure immediately protected farmers from price fluctuations. The price of rice was fixed at Rs.26.95 a kg, higher than the Centrally-announced minimum support price (MSP) of Rs.18.15 a kg. The respondents had sowed rice in 2019 and were preparing for harvest operations when the lockdown began. The government had assured cultivators that harvest and procurement operations would not be affected. Despite the shortage of migrant workers, who had either gone home before the lockdown or were moved to camps, the State authorities arranged the required number of combine harvesters for harvesting rice in the village. They also made arrangements, where required, for workers to move from their accommodation facilities to the fields. The respondents who completed the harvest were able to do so without much difficulty.

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