#5 Odisha’s Ganjam Story

An Empowered Community’s War against Pandemic

Samparna Tripathy
5 min readDec 21, 2020

Once recognized as the epicenter of the virus in Odisha in May, Ganjam quickly emerged as a model in COVID management by bringing down to new caseload to just over 200 and surpassed the 10,000 recovered patients mark just within four months. Driving this turnaround was a visionary administration and an empowered community that showed tremendous resilience and unity in the face of a crisis.

The Unique Risk Profile of the District

As Odisha opened its gates on 2nd May to migrant laborers returning home from other states, the Ganjam administration braced itself for impact. More than 40% of the estimated migrant population (as available from the migrant registrations with the State) were slated to arrive in this district within a couple of weeks after the removal of lockdown restrictions. To add to the infection transmission risk was the fact that a majority of inbound migrants were returning from Surat — a hotspot ravaged by an extremely virulent strain of the Novel Coronavirus. Added with other factors such as population density & human settlement structures (longitudinal arrangement with common boundary walls), the risk profile of Ganjam was significant to start with.

On May 3rd, Ganjam reported its 1st two cases of coronavirus (both Surat returnees) at a time when Odisha had already detected more than 160 cases spread across districts such as Khurda, Jajpur, and Bhadrak. By May 14th, Ganjam had contributed nearly 40% of the caseload in Odisha (i.e. 252 out of 611 cases) and rumors of community transmission had kicked in.

However, those fears were allayed in a couple of months. The district tremendously recovered from that situation and by August, Ganjam accounted for only 13% of the active cases in the State. It crossed the 1 lakh milestone in testing which is higher than the national average and testing performance of most states. The good news was that the test positivity rate (i.e. no. of tested positive / no. of tests) in the district has drastically dropped from around 60% to 15%. This had largely been responsible for bringing down the test positivity rate of Odisha from 13% to 6.5%.

Ganjam really turned the corner and as someone who has been witnessing the change from the side-line, its tale definitely deserves to be told.

Preparedness and Planning for Infection Surge

This transformation did not happen overnight. With 5 lakh migrants anticipated to arrive in Ganjam, a massive inter-departmental task force was deployed for managing the infection risk. Blockwise senior officers and 200 additional officers deployed for Covid specific duty worked together in rotation to ensure that fatigue didn’t set in. One of the major tasks involved the co-ordination with the other states to assess the influx of migrants via buses or special Shramik trains. All the migrant movement had to be strictly regulated to stem the infection transmission to the local populace.

The Ganjam District Administration deployed 150 officials each at Jagannathpur and Berhampur railway stations to ensure that all people arriving from various states (especially Surat, Gujarat) via Shramik express trains were received with dignity. These returnees were transported to TMCs for 14 day quarantine at government expenses. On discharge after successful completion of the quarantine period, the migrants were also given 2000/- cash assistance by the administration. It is laudable that the district administration conducted yoga, laughter therapy, storytelling, and psychological counseling sessions to ensure that migrants didn’t feel “trapped” or “stressed” in institutional quarantine centers. This “humane & empathetic” approach to administration helped in making migrants understand that self-containment was not a diktat but a necessity for protecting the lives of their families.

Delegation of Administrative Powers to Grassroots

Odisha CM Shri Naveen Patnaik had recognized the need for grass root empowerment to regulate migrant movement and enforce quarantine at the village or ward level. In early April, the State delegated powers of District Collectors to sarpanches of Gram Panchayats for their jurisdiction under Section 51 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 & Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 read along with Odisha COVID-19 Regulations, 2020.

Once empowered, the sarpanches worked closely with the Ganjam administration in managing temporary medical camps & isolation homes, enforcing lockdown and containment measures, and driving door to door testing campaigns. Since the community is closely connected to the grass-root leaders, it became an ethical imperative for villages to co-operate with sarpanches and report non-compliant or deviant cases (quarantine flouting, people aggregating for social functions etc.) that were putting the general population at risk.

United Front against Adversity

Anticipating the surge in infection in times to come, the State Government went into overdrive to augment the infrastructure capacity in Ganjam. The current capacity created covering 1.46 lakh beds in temporary medical camps & over 3500 beds for patients in COVID Care centres and hospitals is a result of meticulous planning by the administration.

In addition to financial incentives to work in CoVID hospitals, health centres and care centres, the State’s efforts in arranging hotel accommodation for doctors and other medical staff was welcomed by the medical fraternity. Multiple doctors, professional mental health counsellors and AYUSH practitioners also volunteered on-ground or remotely through virtual consultations.

Mobile health units were arranged by the Ganjam administration to reach inaccessible rural pockets and conduct basic health checks (such as blood pressure or sugar). The credit of preserving law & order in such chaotic times also goes to the Ganjam police. In spite of having its own workforce affected with the Coronavirus, the police intensified its efforts in patrolling and enforcing strict lockdown and containment measures.

Needless to say, the intent of the machinery to contain the spread of the virus would not have been possible without the ownership of the community. Be it the ASHA workers who relentlessly conducted door to door screenings & tests or the recovered patients who donated plasma and urged their fellows to come forward for testing, it is the community in Ganjam that scripted the story of its war against the pandemic.

United it stood — inspiring hope for the unpredictable future!