Bihar Assembly Elections 2020: Target 5 lakh kits, women lead Patna’s Covid race for polls

Patna is one of the three centres where this exercise is taking place, the other two being Muzaffarpur and Purnea. “On the first day, we created 30,000 kits, on the second 40,000, and on the third (Tuesday) close to 60,000. We need to bring out 5 lakh kits overall from this centre,” Kumar said. He is one of 25 BMSICL officials at the Bhawan round the clock.

There are 20 minutes left till 8 pm, and the enthusiasm is dropping. For over 11 hours now, 500 women have been sorting and wrapping, raising a hand when they run out of equipment. In an indoor hall the size of a hockey field, a voice booms on a microphone: “Chalu rakho (Keep it going).” Off the mike, there is another instruction: “Music chalu karo, thoda energy badhao (Start the music, step up the energy).” Soon, smiles fill the hall as a Bhojpuri song begins to play. In the halls of Gyan Bhawan in Patna, a swanky convention centre usually used for exhibitions and conferences, the music is the continued on closest to normal that it will get for the next few days. Because, with just a fortnight left for the Bihar elections, it is here that a mammoth exercise to create Covid kits is taking place — for voters, polling personnel and security staff.

Sudhir Kumar, General Manager, Bihar Medical Services & Infrastructure Corporation Ltd (BMSICL), said the women volunteers — NGO personnel, ASHA workers and mid-day meal staff — come in two shifts beginning 8 am, and ending 12 hours later. “300 come in the first shift, and 200 in the second. The biggest challenge is the pace cannot drop,” Kumar said. Every volunteer gets Rs 220 extra per day, with food and travel to and from the venue provided for.

Patna is one of the three centres where this exercise is taking place, the other two being Muzaffarpur and Purnea. “On the first day, we created 30,000 kits, on the second 40,000, and on the third (Tuesday) close to 60,000. We need to bring out 5 lakh kits overall from this centre,” Kumar said. He is one of 25 BMSICL officials at the Bhawan round the clock.

If the scale of this exercise — from trucks bringing in material to men unloading and loading crates — underlines the challenge in conducting an election during a pandemic, senior Health officials said even to get to this stage has been a logistical feat. “When you tender and buy, it can take time. So there are representatives of the state government camping in cities where the companies we have procured material from are based, like Ajmer, Agra, Dehradun and New Delhi. Everything is a new challenge,” a senior official said.
Another aspect that needs to be addressed, officials said, is the disposal of used material. So a protocol to dispose bio-medical waste has been made, which includes three dustbins with 100-litre capacity per polling station. The waste material will be carried in closed dedicated vehicles, with GPS-based tracking till bio-medical waste treatment facilities. Officials said they are also looking to finetune helpline numbers and the Sanjeevani app, which provides Covid updates.

Pratyaya Amrit, Bihar Health Secretary, said that in meetings with the state government, the Election Commission has conveyed that this is a poll that will be “watched by the whole world”. “People have expectations from us, and trust. The team has taken up this challenge and we are leaving no stone unturned. This is an opportunity to create a successful model, even in these challenging times,” Amrit said.

Bihar still has around 600 containment zones, and over 11,000 active cases of which more than 9,000 are in home quarantine. To keep voting safe, the Health Department is planning “100 per cent testing” in all containment zones, beginning three days before polling day. “For instance, for polls starting October 28, our house-to-house tests in containment zones will be done from October 23-26,” a senior official said.

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Consider the key elements in Bihar’s bid to keep Covid at bay for the polls:

* For Voters: 29 lakh hand sanitiser units; 18 lakh face shields; 7.21 crore single-use hand gloves.

* For Central Police: 5.63 lakh hand sanitiser units; 11.26 lakh 3-ply masks; 5.63 lakh face shields; 11.26 lakh hand gloves.

* For State Police: 67,830 hand sanitiser units; 4.06 lakh 3-ply masks; 2.03 lakh face shields; 4.06 lakh hand gloves.

* For polling personnel: 7.66 lakh hand sanitisers; 46 lakh 3-ply masks; 7.66 lakh face shields; 23 lakh hand gloves; 1.06 lakh hand-held IR thermometers.

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