Odisha Led the Country in Declaring Corona Menace a Disaster


Bhubaneswar: Since 2000 Odisha under the leadership of its Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik has set an excellent global benchmark of governance in managing natural disasters and ensuring almost zero human casualties. On 13th March 2020  Shri  Patnaik and his Cabinet provided exemplary leadership for  the entire country and indeed the world by declaring  COVID-19, Corona Virus Disease, as a disaster for the State under the provisions of Disaster Management Act, 2005. It was done  to adequately empower public officials to combat the spread of COVID-19 which Shri Patnaik described as the biggest challenge beyond the comprehension of humanity.   In doing so Odisha set a trend and next day,  on 14th March 2020, the Union Government  declared and notified COVID-19 as a disaster. Such pronouncement of Odisha Government assumes significance in the context of World Health Organisation declaring corona spread as a global health emergency and global pandemic.

While Odisha has a globally acclaimed record of saving millions of human lives from recurrent natural  calamities it is hoped that the State would succeed in saving its four and half crore people from the corona disaster. Such hopes are generated from the illuminating statement made by Shri Patnaik in the State Assembly and the corresponding measures taken to prevent spread of this new deadly virus. These measures included allocation of  Rupees 225 crores to deal with the pandemic, adoption of practice of ruthless social distancing, espousal of  hand washing and respiratory protocols, enforcement of    quarantine procedure for suspected cases, shutting  down schools and educational institutions, mandatory registration of people visiting Odisha from abroad and tracing,  testing and isolating people who are found to be Corona positive cases. The Government has taken measures for advance payment of old age pensions and other social security pensions to people so that they should not undergo economic hardships. One of the steps taken by the Government mandated that all those from the State who return  to Odisha from abroad would mandatorily register in twenty four hours of their arrival and each one of them  would be provided Rupees 15,000 during the fourteen day quarantine period which they have to undergo in their respective homes and places of stay. In this context Odisha Chief Minister Shri Patnaik led by setting an example when he registered his sister’s name  Shrimati Geeta Meheta, eminent writer, who arrived in India from a foreign country. None other than Prime Minister of India complemented Shri Patnaik for providing leadership in this regard for the whole country.

It is worth quoting the exact words of Chief Minister’s  statement to State Assembly made on 13th March 2020. He said, “Very few times in the history of the world have human beings as a race faced challenges beyond their comprehension. With advances in science, this phenomenon has become a rarity. However, the last 45 days has seen human beings as a race facing one of the biggest challenges of the century”. The manner in which he expressed the magnitude of the disaster brought out the gravity of the problem and the severity of its spread across the world. In fact the entire statement of the Chief Minister made in the State Assembly constituted so far the best and eloquent statement by any leader of our country outlining the totality of the  menace COVD-19 posed to every aspect of the collective life of humanity.

Nehru had said that  Disaster like Peace and Freedom has become Indivisible

The pervasiveness of the threat emanating from global spread of Corona virus  and its universal impact cutting across all barriers  was brilliantly summed up in the statement in which it is stated with anguish and anxiety,  “We are faced with a threat that does not discriminate between developed countries and under developed countries between democratic or non-democratic countries. Rich and poor societies all are equally vulnerable”. It reminds us of the immortal words of India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who in his “Tryst with Destiny Speech” had famously said with rare prescience,  ” Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.”

Odisha stressed on a  Common and Unified Response to Corona threat

Indeed the indivisibility of disaster caused by Corona virus and indispensability of a common and unified response from the Government, civil society and people at large was underlined by Shri Patnaik when he asserted and urged by saying  that “This response cannot be only at the individual, Government or sectoral level. Each one of us in Odisha has to rise to the occasion, and be responsible. In the absence of any vaccine or treatment our collective responsibility is the only hope we have, to fight this epidemic”. Such observations reminds British Labour MP Miliband’s article, “Tear up Economic Rule Book: This Pandemic Calls for Radical Intervention” published in the London Guardian on 17th March 2020. He very thoughtfully wrote in that article that “A pandemic is the ultimate collective action problem.”

Shri Patnaik in his statement while noting  that “The World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic and has urged upon all member States to take urgent and aggressive action to contain the spread of the pandemic”.  made an earnest appeal by saying “We must remain calm but not complacent . We must remain prepared, but not panic.”

Shri Patnaik’s  Example in  Washing Hands in Public is in tune with Gandhi’s legacy

He set an example of washing his hand in presence of media to transmit the message to the wider society that personal hygiene and sanitation is the best antidote to protect oneself from the corona viral infection and stem its further spread. By  setting an example of hand washing in public he has appealed to people through his action that a simple act of properly cleaning one’s own hand would protect people from a viral infection which for the first time in human history has caused an unprecedented global public health disaster in recorded history. It reminds one the example of late Shri K. R. Narayanan who as Vice President of India shook hands with the victims of AIDS in presence of media to drive home the point that the AIDS infection could never spread through contacts.

Shri Patnaik’s  example of  washing hands in public  tunes  us to the vision of Mahatma Gandhi whose 150th birth anniversary  is being celebrated in the country and on this occasion Shri Patnaik advocated inclusion of non-violence in the Preamble of the Constitution to pay tribute to the father of our nation. The shining  example of Shri Patnaik  affirming the importance of hand hygiene to arrest corona viral infection  reminds us the words of Mahatma Gandhi. In  the context of alarming spread of plague in third decade of twentieth century he had insightfully said, “A plague-infected man is worse than a plague-infected rat or fleas and unless you make your bodies proofs against infection you cannot abolish these epidemics. Nature has endowed us with enough capacity for the resistance of disease. It is we who, careless of her laws, have ruined that capacity. We have to regain it by healthy and hygienic ways of living and eating.”

It is also pertinent to recall that when plague broke out in the erstwhile Bombay around 1915 and it was feared that it would spread to Rajkot Mahatma Gandhi provided leadership in offering his services to the sanitation department to counter the epidemic. He was made a member of the Sanitation Committee which visited many areas of the town to inspect the houses of people to ascertain the standard of cleanliness of latrines. While many Members of the Committee refused to visit the houses of some people because they belonged to lowest castes and  were treated as untouchables Gandhi went ahead  and inspected their houses. Such inspiring leadership at the time of disaster is need of the hour.

Appeal to People of  Odisha for Practicing Social Distancing  

In the context of frightening spread of corona virus across the world Shri Patnaik said, “I must confess the entire world is on a learning curve about handling this disaster. This is where it is very important that the four and half crore Odias join together and help us in managing the situation. Each one of us has a responsibility to ourselves, to our families and to the communities we live in”. He then underlined the point that “The only effective measure so far has been social distancing. All of us should ruthlessly practice social distancing”. He urged the Hon’ble Members of the Odisha State Assembly  to take personal care of themselves and at the same time provide inspiring leadership in their  Constituencies in the fight against corona menace.

State Government Invoking Lord Jagannath’s annual quarantine for fourteen days to isolate Corona infected people 

It is instructive that the Government of Odisha is driving home the message of quarantining people coming from abroad or suspected of carrying corona virus not only by invoking modern medical principles, practices and hygienic standards but also by invoking folklore and time honored religious practice followed in sacred Jagannath temple where  Lord Jagannath and other deities worshipped in the main shrine get quarantined or isolated for fifteen days in June – July every year when they get infected by fever after taking bath in cold water and coming in contact with people in large numbers in open space outside the sanctum sanctorum. Such practice of quarantine of Lord Jagannath is described as Anasara which in local language means isolation. During this isolation period Lord Jagannath gets treated and traditional herbal  medicines are administered to Him. It is indeed educative to note that the chief spokesperson of the State Government entrusted with the responsibility of dealing with media on Corona issues, Shri Subroto Bagchi, in a press briefing referred to quarantine of Lord Jagannath for two weeks every year and appealed to people to follow that example and isolate themselves voluntarily and go for medical intervention in the event of their showing symptoms of Corona related infections. His exhortation to people that if Lord Jagannath is subjected to quarantine then lesser mortals like human beings should have no objection to follow that procedure in the war against corona virus which is posing worldwide threat. The invocation of religious practices in combination with standard medical protocol by the Odisha Government to deal with Corona menace is indeed innovative and inspiring. In using those religious practices associated with the revered Lord Jagannath the Government is making general public more sensitive, aware and amenable to accept and follow the quarantine procedure to deal with the  threat and rising crises caused by Corona virus. Such use of religious practices in Odisha are evocative of Mahatma Gandhi’s example during freedom struggle when he recalled the life and work of  revered names   from diverse faiths such as devotee Prahalad, Jesus Christ, Imam Hussain and Meerabai whom he described as role models of Satyagrahis and urged people to follow them to apply methods of Satyagraha for independence of India from foreign rule. He did so to educate people about lessons of Satyagraha and the cause of creative nationalism so that their legacy of not submitting to the dictation of oppressors without hatred for them should be followed to fight against British rulers  without any ill will against them.

Personal Appeal of Odisha CM to Stop Spitting in Public is Evocative of Gandhi’s Vision

Odisha CM made an interesting and instructive appeal in the context of rising spread of Corona. In his statement to the Odisha Assembly he said,  , “My personal appeal to you is – This is an opportunity for Odias to stop spitting Paan”. Paan is nothing but betel leaf which with areca nut is chewed by people in large numbers and they quite often spit in public spaces disregarding all norms of sanitation and hygiene. Chief Minister’s personal  appeal to those chewing pan not to spit is  the first of its kind in our country.  In terms of an advisory coming from the level of Chief Minister who prescribes people of Odisha not to spit paan it sets a new trend in favour of upholding rules of public sanitation. It is  instructive to note that it is in tune with Mahatma Gandhi’s prescription, given by him during his first Satyagraha launched in South Africa in 1906, that spitting even in forest should make a person liable to punishment. Later in 1946 he  said that  wanton spitting often becomes a major factor behind  spread of disease.  For instance on  14th July 1946 he said,  ” Promiscuous spitting is a bad habit….. It is all part and parcel of the incredible ignorance that exists in our land among all classes of people in regard to the elementary laws of sanitation and hygiene. It is a habit which we must give up, if we would avoid certain diseases”. Again in the same year he wrote,  “Anyone who fouls the air by spitting about carelessly, throwing refuse and rubbish or otherwise dirtying the ground, sins against man and nature”. The personal appeal of CM to Odias to eschew spitting of paan by taking the opportunity to prevent spread of Corona assumes critical significance to promote public hygiene and sanitation. It is also worthwhile to note that Chief Minister’s appeal and advice is in tune with advisory of World Health Organisation which cautioned that corona virus can spread through saliva which gets released to public space through spitting.

In fact the Corona virus for which there is no counter in the form of vaccine or medicine is no ordinary source of certain disease. It constitutes a terrible menace to public health and human civilization. It poses a challenge to humanity and in fact peoples and Governments across the world are at their wit’s end to deal with the menace posed by a new strain of virus. It is all the more baffling to note that Europe which is well acclaimed for high levels of sanitation and standard of life has become the epicenter of  global spread of corona virus. We need to maintain high standard of sanitary protocol and lead a hygienic  and healthy life style for  defeating  the virus and saving  humanity and civilisation. The trend setting decision of Shri Naveen Patnaik in declaring corona threat it as a disaster is a step in the right direction. His advocacy for hand hygiene, social distancing and dispensing  dirty habit of spitting in public spaces constitute much needed preventive measures which invoke Mahatma Gandhi’s vision to counter infectious diseases.

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