Fighting Covid 19, This IAS Officer Sets Impressive Benchmark
- Indian Masterminds Bureau
- Published on 6 Sep 2020, 6:12 pm IST
- 7 minutes read
Sonmoni Borah, the top IAS officer in Chattisgarh, is a leading corona warrior of India. He is an inspiration to the civil servants all over.
- Sonmoni Borah- Leading by Example
Chhattisgarh was among the few front running states which played a proactive role in managing migrant workers issues during the lockdown and aftermath. It set an example of best model practices for the country. It was undoubtedly a team effort of the state, with the Chief Minister himself monitoring the situation from the top.
But a big credit goes to Mr Sonmoni Borah, the Secretary to Governor and Labour Department and the then Labour Commissioner, to manage effectively and handle situations arising out of lockdown and thereafter.
Within days of nationwide lockdown, Mr Borah, an IAS of 1999 batch was immediately made the State Nodal Officer and single source of all information and coordination. He made full efforts to ensure that the labourers are paid what they are owed. On his orders, the Department got in touch with contractors, employers and factory managements and payment worth Rs 37 crore was collected for 31,000 labourers giving them a huge relief during the pandemic.
In an interview with Indian Masterminds, when asked about how many migrants his department helped, IAS Borah said, “During lockdown 1.0 and 2.0,over 3 lakh labourers within and outside the state were benefited by the proactive humanitarian approach of the government. Later, we facilitated their safe return to Chhattisgarh from different parts of the country. Likewise, we also facilitated the willing migrant workers of other states stranded or working in Chhattisgarh for their safe return to home states.”
“Apart from this, Labour department ensured that all our 42 ESI dispensaries remained open and as many as 1.2 lakh workers got OPD services throughout the lockdown period and till July it crossed 2 lakh beneficiaries. On the basis of complaints of non payment of salary or reduction etc during lockdown , the labour department acted swiftly in the interest of workers and about 171 Crore paid to workers on their complaints”, he added.
Several instances of Borah’s remarkable work during this pandemic have come to light. To illustrate, 24 Chattisgarh labourers informed Mr Borah that many workers were stranded at Gurugram. They had no food to eat and hunger was killing them. One of the workers, a woman called Sukhmati, had jaundice. Mr Borah immediately sent ration and arranged for a health team to attend to her. They came to know that she had last stage cancer and she was brought back to Chhattisgarh. She breathed her last in presence of her family and friends.
Reaching Out to the Stranded Migrants
Also, Mr Borah got to know through Twitter that Noori, another worker was stuck at a Rain Basera in Bilaspur and had to go back home after she received news of her sister’s demise. Mr Borah made arrangements for a health check up and then she was sent home in a private vehicle.
Talking about the challenges he faced, Mr Borah said, “The most challenging task once the lockdown 1.0 was announced was to reach out to the stranded and distressed migrant workers in different parts of our vast country and to get them connected with us. We had immediately started 24 /7 state helpline numbers and district helpline number for each district. My team was in constant touch with whosoever called us or information was received. We convinced our people not to walk back home amidst reports of thousands deciding to return home on foot. We arranged and provided them food, ration, accommodation and medicine, while coordinating with the district administrations and state governments. The most critical part was managing the information flow. Information and calls came from all corners and through all mediums. These came in all forms. Apart from State and District Helpline numbers, information also came through social media, Print and electronic media, WhatsApp messages, offices of Chief Minister , Ministers, public representatives, Twitter, NGOs, etc. Workers even called in CM office and his cell phone too, let alone our cell no’s. Feedback and information were received from many NGOs and social media volunteers. Information also routed through 2nd,3rd, 4th hands and sometimes many forgot to send contact numbers or details.”
When asked about the facilities provided to workers who were passing through Chattisgarh, Borah stated, “Chhattisgarh provided all possible support and amenities to migrant workers passing through our state. As our border was sealed during lockdown, a huge number of other state migrant workers were stranded at our borders , where they were kept in relief camps . Later, when their movements allowed, we provided transit facilities and also transport from one point of border to exit point of border. Border districts were instructed to provide them food, water, medical facilities and also pair of chappals.”
Helplines, `Sharmik’ Trains and More
Furthermore, be told us about the arrangements made to facilitate their return. “We did all possible coordinations and arrangements for their safe return. Our 24 hour 7 days a week helplines took information for return journey registration. We used special `Shramik’ Trains to ensure safe return of the workers. We also opened online registration. Working out transport plan, logistics, screening, coordinating with various state governments and different district administrations, Railways , taking them to quarantine centres upon arrival and to their homes, etc were enormous tasks that we had never done before at such a large scale. Even though around 3 lakh people got registered for home return, the final figure touched around 5.3 lakh migrant workers and if we take families, students, pilgrims, other people, the total numbers rose exponentially to nearly 7 lakh who returned after lockdowns. It was a massive logistic operation , involving so many stakeholders”, he said.
Describing the livelihood provided to the labourers, he said, “Many activities like coal mining , power generating activities were on in Chhattisgarh throughout lockdown as exempted activities. However, once the prohibition was lifted towards April 20, Chhattisgarh was fast on track to start its economic activities. 1622 factories were restarted soon and about 1.5 lakh workers resumed work. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee works were opened in large numbers and Chhattisgarh became number one in the country in providing livelihoods. Instantly, about 1.81 lakh workers were benefitted through Central schemes and about 1.41 lakh migrant workers got benefits through state schemes.Help desk and counselling centres were established for the migrant workers at all levels like Panchayat, Block and District level.”
Giving a piece of advice for younger generation wanting to uplift the society, Borah stated,”This has been an unprecedented time. Have patience. This time too will pass. I can see societies and countries coming together to fight the pandemic and situations arising out of it. Being the country with largest young population today in India, how the youth and society as a whole ,respond to the current issues, challenges and situations will be the key to shape destiny and future of this great country. We must balance our lives with the nature and Mother Earth. We are not the masters ,rather guests of the Mother Earth and nature. Let us receive the ‘ divine message ‘ gracefully and work for a resilient society and balancing of human co-existence with Mother Nature. Let’s us join hands together to work for sustainability of development, building a strong nation and be a part of creative problem solving process to issues like climate change, pandemic like COVID-19, pollution, etc.”
Chhattisgarh Labour Department has undeniably set an example in this time of crisis. Despite facing the heavy odds, people like Sonmoni Borah have emerged as an inspiration for not only civil servants, but for us as well. With his humane actions and impressive administrative talent, Borah has showcased that those who have the courage to do the right thing in a grave situation like this pandemic are truly unstoppable.
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