How high-level group formed by govt has stepped up Covid-19 fight
A group of senior bureaucrats has held six meetings with international organisations, over 40 NGOs and several industry bodies in just six days since its formation, highlighting the sense of urgency in the Narendra Modi government to tackle the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
The empowered group on “Coordinating with Private Sector, NGOs, and International Organisations for COVID-19-related Response Activities”, is chaired by NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant. It is one of the 11 panels constituted by the Centre on March 29 to monitor all aspects of the pandemic.
According to an official release, the primary objective of Kant’s team (Empowered Group Number 6, or EG6) has been to seek support and technology-based solutions in specific areas, clear hurdles for private players and also coordinate with other groups as well as state governments.
The group met industry associations, international organisations, and civil society organisations about “their contribution to Covid-19 response, their plans for the coming weeks, the issues they are facing, and their expectations from the government”, the release said.
While all three groups of stakeholders pointed out the areas where they need support, Kant assured them of the government’s help, and also put them in touch with other empowered groups for faster and more effective response and coordination.
Apart from Kant, the group comprises principal scientific officer K Vijayaraghavan; Kamal Kishore (member, National Disaster Management Authority); Sandeep Bhatnagar (member, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs); Anil Malik of the home ministry; Vikram Doraiswami and P Harish of the foreign office; Gopal Baglay and Aishvarya Singh from the Prime Minister’s Office; and Tina Soni from the cabinet secretariat. The work of the group is serviced by Sanyukta Samaddar, adviser, Sustainable Development Goals, NITI Aayog.
The group has met the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator for India, and the country heads of the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA),United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Labour Organization (ILO), UN Women, UN-Habitat, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank.
The discussions focused on providing technical support in monitoring and surveillance systems, strengthening health and nutritional services, capacity building, financial resources and critical equipment support.
Following the meetings, the UN in India has built a Joint Programme Response Plan “defining their clear activities and deliverables in different sectors and States, where they are partnering with Union Ministries and State Governments”. The plan has been submitted to the Niti Aayog.
Kant’s team has held detailed deliberations with over 40 prominent civil society bodies and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisation) till April 3, apart from writing to 92,000 such bodies registered with the Niti Aayog.
Kant has also appealed to these bodies to assist the government in identifying hot spots of the disease, and deputing volunteers and caregivers to deliver services to the elderly, persons with disabilities, children, transgender persons, and other vulnerable groups. The government has reached out to these groups to “create awareness about prevention, social distancing, isolation, and combating stigma and to provide shelter to the homeless, daily wage workers and urban poor families. and to set up community kitchens for migrants,” the release said .
Further, Kant wrote to all states, asking them to utilise the physical and human resources made available by these NGOs and civil society groups.
The committee also met private sector players and start-ups for collaboration among them to produce health equipment and PPE (personal protective equipment). “As many as 8 Start-Ups working in innovative health care solutions, 12 top industry leaders from CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), 6 CEOs from FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry) partners, 14 CEOs of top tech-based companies from NASSCOM (a not-for-profit industry association) participated” in the discussions.
The talks focused on issues including the estimation of PPE, ventilators and medical equipment requirement, retrofitting domestic production lines to meet demand, supply chain management issues, innovative technology-led solutions, issues of certification, GST, import duties on components, issues of procurement, training, and post-lockdown operating procedures.
“The start-ups, namely, AgVa, Biodesign Innovation Lab, Kaeaenaat, Qure AIDrona Maps, mFine, MicroGo, Staqu, working on innovative ventilator design, testing tools, and tracking solutions have been contacted separately to understand their scale and possible contributions,” said the release.
While industries appraised the group about their philanthropic and CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities related to Covid-19, they also took up several challenges on critical issues of health care intervention, pertaining to ramping up production and procurement of ventilators, among others.