In new decentralisation push, Bengaluru wards to monitor COVID-19 response

Even as the BBMP is overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases in the city, it is finally taking the help of local bodies to curb the spread of coronavirus.
BBMP Mayor Goutham Kumar at a ward committee meeting
BBMP Mayor Goutham Kumar at a ward committee meeting

Following the rising number of cases in the city, local governing bodies in the form of disaster management cells have been pressed into service to monitor and report the ground-level situation of the battle against COVID-19 in Bengaluru.

Bengaluru on July 22 reported that there were 22,969 active cases of the coronavirus in the city, with 2050 new cases reported in the Wednesday evening bulletin.

For the first time, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) ward committee members met on Monday morning to discuss COVID-19 preparedness in their respective wards. Principal Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, LK Atheeq held a call for ward committees on Monday morning to discuss with their elected BBMP corporator the steps that they were taking to combat COVID-19.

In a tweet, the Principal Secretary said, “A call was given on Friday requesting #WardCommittees & WDMCs to meet and discuss #COVIDー19 on Monday 10:00 am. I am overwhelmed by the response. A large number of wards have met & discussed. We will continue to handhold the WCs (Ward Committees) & WDMCs (Ward Disaster Management Cells).”(sic)

The move is aimed towards decentralisation of powers from the BBMP Commissioner’s office which handles everything from contact tracing to tracking bed numbers in hospitals in their wards to making individual ward committees more responsible for their own wards, LK Atheeq said to TNM.

“We want Ward Committees to keep track of the situation on the ground, and we want the volunteers to see if the contact tracing is done, keep a check on the door-to-door monitoring of temperatures of people under home quarantine, and see if there are hospital beds vacant and keep a track on this (among other responsibilities). We want the ward to take responsibility for the health of the people in their ward, and find solutions locally,” said the bureaucrat.

Incidentally, citizens have been petitioning the government to activate disaster management cells at the ward level for months now, arguing that a decentralised approach was best when dealing with a crisis of this magnitude.

The Bengaluru Urban district has 197 wards in the city. Several ward committees said that they had met and discussed various issues.

Chitra Venkatesh, one of the ward committee members of Ward 93 (Kumara Park West), said that they met and discussed facilities available in the ward including a new fever clinic, which opened on Queens Road. Chitra said that the corporator was “planning a 100-bed quarantine centre in the ward with the help of the MLA.”

“We also raised the issue of equipment for our pourakarmikas as nine people in the layout tested positive for the virus but were asymptomatic, and have been asked to stay home. We only found out because we insisted that the pourakarmikas be tested, and 31 were tested. They have not been given proper gloves— old and torn gloves are being used. We have asked that gloves, masks and shoes be provided to the pourakarmikas. Containment wards have been given money, but so far, it has not been spent on these facilities,” said the ward committee member.

Poornima, a member of the ward committee of Ward 113 (Konena Agrahara), said that they were given charge of contact tracing and tracking hospital beds in the area. Besides, “We found out that there is a new war room for the ward on Old Madras Road, and that there is a Rs 20 lakh budget for the ward as it is affected by the coronavirus. Sixty-seven cases have been reported in the ward with 47 active cases.”

Poornima said that the committee discussed how to hold further meetings. “We have been mandated to meet each week, but it is not safe to meet during the pandemic. We have given recommendations regarding online streaming of the meeting through a Google Meet link for the ward members who cannot attend physical meetings.”

Speaking to TNM, Principal Secretary LK Atheeq said, “I haven’t seen the entire data yet, but we think that about 70 ward committees met out of 197. It’s a good response, but there is definitely room for improvement.”

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