In Chandigarh, the buck stops with Municipal Commissioner K K Yadav, when it comes to implementation of any and all decisions on how to handle the Corona pandemic in the union territory. From steering the Municipal Corporation (MC) during one of its most critical periods, to ensuring that essential needs reach all sections of society, especially the poor and marginalised, the 50-year-old Punjab cadre IAS officer has plenty on his plate.
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Having taken over as Municipal Commissioner in May 2018, Yadav has had his share of bouquets and brickbats over the handling of the city’s municipal needs. He began his tenure with a promise to delivering civic services to the city residents in a timely manner and to perk up the grievance-redressal mechanism.
Two years down the line, Yadav says that the organization has achieved better efficacy and transparency. From Rs 172 crore in 2017-18, the corporation’s revenues have gone up 1.5 times presently. The Municipal Corporation (MC), however, needs to further stabilise its revenue generation, optimize manpower utilisation, as also improve the quality of infrastructure creation, and speed up programmes such as 24X7 water supply, parking spaces, and garbage disposal.
But the pandemic has been a whole new experience for this officer, as it has been for everyone else around the country in his position. With its population estimated at 13.5 lakhs in 2020, the city had 36 positive cases as on April 27th, with 751 under quarantine. Chandigarh, however, is much better off than neighbouring Mohali which has seen a surge in positive case (63 so far).
As a union territory, Yadav has the advantage of having to manage a small geographical area, but one with its own unique characteristics. His biggest advantage, however, is that of fewer political restraints. And his experience from the many important assignments he has held in the past, including postings as DC Bathinda, Director, Local Government Punjab, and Special Secretary, Housing and Urban Development, has no doubt given him many learnings to handle the present assignment.
In an interview with Citizen Matters, Yadav talks about the challenges posed by COVID 19 to the city beautiful and the strategies adopted by the MC to tackle the same. Excerpts from the interview:
With 36 Coronavirus cases, Chandigarh has now been declared a hotspot. What could have been done better?
We have been under curfew from day one. A majority of the cases are of returning international travellers who came in contact with other people. The administration undertook extensive contact tracing and most of these people have been tracked and quarantined. Our basic strategy revolves around four aspects – lockdown, social distancing, promoting personal hygiene and extensive screening. But no one knows whether an asymptomatic individual with COVID 19 is roaming around. We are screening around one lakh people per day.
Our learning from the pulse polio model has been very useful in this and we have a quick decision making mechanism. NGOs are working in tandem with us, and other cities and towns that are in touch with us for adopting our best practices.
Do you have adequate infrastructure in place, in case of a spike in positive cases?
We are ahead of any other city or state in terms of per capita availability of health infrastructure. Our status as a Union Territory is a great help. We already have a special 300-bed COVID ward at PGI, and another 100 beds in another general hospital. We have quarantine facilities in different parts of the city. We are taking special care of our health care workers. We are providing hotel facilities to them if their families are perceived at risk or they themselves are facing quarantine. The grant in aid provided by the UT Administration to us has been increased to Rs 425 cr rupees presently.
What challenges have you faced so far in your drive to control the spread of COVID-19?
Chandigarh geographically is a small, landlocked entity. We are dependent on other neighbouring states — Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh — for all our supplies. In this scenario, the challenge is to keep the supply chain running. I have been spending a fair bit of my time to coordinate extensively with the other stakeholders. Though the union home ministry had declared that movement of cargo carrying vehicles, whether full or empty are covered under essential services, we had some issues in the initial days, but that has been sorted out and we have sufficient stocks to cater to the city.
What is the scenario on the cleanliness front?
Ensuring cleanliness in the city, sanitation, illumination of street lights, maintenance of parks, sewerage disposal, and provision of other civic amenities are the prime responsibilities of the MC. I must tell you, the city has never been so clean as it has been after the lockdown. We have teams that work in shifts, with each team having a back-up. We have arranged accommodation for 1000 employees in government buildings and community centres to ensure that they are available at short notice. Plus, there are numerous other duties that we perform.
We have a total of 84 teams each comprised of 6 civilian and 3 police officials to carry out critical tasks like delivery of milk products at residents’ doorstep. We have engaged MC buses and vendors to sell fruits, vegetables and other essentials. Our staff visit the Mandis to ensure adequate availability of these commodities.
We have a centralised system wherein the activities of all our field staff are monitored. We are also trying to create software to ensure equity in the distribution system. We need to keep a check on people who try to fool the system and end up taking multiple food packets. We can cater to individual needs but not their greed.
We have heard reports about shopkeepers and vendors overcharging for items of daily needs…
We have a no-tolerance approach on this. The rate list of each item is prominently displayed on Chandigarh Transport Undertaking buses that visit different sectors to provide fruits, vegetables and other items needed by residents on a regular basis. If these vehicles and their staff are found engaging in any irregularities, we straight away fire them.
Grocery shops are private entities. We do not have direct control over them. But if any of them are found overcharging, customers can register a complaint on 155304, which is operational 24×7. Our staff takes just 3 to 4 minutes to respond. So far, we have taken action against 4 to 5 shops.
What role are NGOs in the city playing to bring relief to the residents, especially those from weaker sections?
NGOs and religious institutions are playing a critical role, to the extent that a large number of the economically weaker families would have gone without food for days were it not for these entities. Red Cross in particular is doing great work. They provide at least 50,000 meals and dry ration on a daily basis to economically weaker sections, rehabilitation colonies and the poorest of the poor.
NGOs and Civil Society organizations at the sector level are preparing community meals, contributing in cash to the COVID-fund, besides donating equipment, ready to eat food, masks, sanitizers, gloves, and PPE. Overall we have achieved an effective symbiosis working with them. The fact that every household in Chandigarh is getting at least two square meals a day, is largely due to the tireless efforts made by our non-government partners.
Chandigarh is a beautiful place to live in, and it will emerge even more so after the COVID-19 crisis blows over.