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Maharashtra Government Risks Lives of Foot-Soldiers in COVID-19 Battle

Amey Tirodkar |
The survey of people across the state is being done by ASHA workers and Block Facilitators. But, they are getting by with almost negligible remuneration and risking their lives as well.
Maharashtra Government

Vaishali Kawade is an ASHA (An Accredited Social Health Activist) worker from Sukena village of Niphad tehsil in Nashik district. She has been visiting about fifty houses a day to fill up survey forms regarding the novel coronavirus. While some people are truthful and others lie, she has to make daily visits and keep them for symptoms of COVID-19, if any.

Vaishali and thousands of ASHA workers like her have been given forms by the government which they have to fill up for every household. For the work, these workers will get only Rs 1000 as remuneration which comes to about Rs 30 daily.

"Even someone who works as farm labour gets at least Rs 150 per day. She would get work for a minimum of 20 days per month and would earn more than us," Vaishali said. "We are risking our life during the lockdown but are still being neglected," she said.

ASHA workers have been provided with two sets of gloves and masks. There is no provision of a sanitiser, not even hand wash. Vaishali carries a soap with her and washes her hands every hour.

The Centre has provided for the workers with an insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh but they have not been trained about the coronavirus. They have just been giving forms which they have to fill up by visiting every home in their area. There are almost 72,000 ASHA workers in Maharashtra, and they are on-ground making surveys.

Another group of foot-soldiers taking on COVID-19 are the close to 4,000 Bloc Facilitators (BF) in Maharashtra. They are supposed to visit every village assigned to them every week and get briefed by the ASHA workers.

Rupali Sanap is the BF for Lasalgaon bloc in Nashik, where a case of COVID-19 was found last week. As a result, BF and ASHA workers have been asked to visit the area for two weeks straight.

Rupali visits the area along with ASHA workers on a daily basis and said that its residents are growing increasingly agitated. “People are getting irritated and asking us not to visit the area. They think that since we made the name of the area public, vegetable and milk vendors have stopped visiting. They blame us for their hardship, but we keep trying to tell them that this is for their own good,” she said.

Rupali has to look after fourteen villages in her designated area and there are five BFs for 57 villages. She has received two sets of masks, gloves and sanitisers, but nothing more. How much is she paid? Rs 500 per month, which comes to about Rs 15 per day. While ASHA workers are included in the Centre’s insurance scheme, BFs have no insurance cover. They have been left to their own devices by governments.

Raju Desale is Maharashtra’s chief of ASHA workers as well as of the BFs organisation. He has been asking for the government to take back the work from ASHA workers and BFs if it is not serious about pay. “Where is the security for these people? Where is the training? Why should they work and risk their lives on the ground? There is no communication between the government and these workers. They are getting a negligible amount and no one talks about them. I think the government should immediately relieve these workers from such duties if it cannot honour their hardship," said Desale.

Since the state of Maharashtra is home to the highest number of those affected by the novel coronavirus (a reported 1078 cases as of noon on Wednesday) large-scale surveys are being planned. However, those risking their lives to document and inform remain neglected.

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