Explaining Odisha’s Rapid Response To The COVID Pandemic

Location: Lok Seva Bhavan

It is said that moments of crisis act as equalizers. Both developed and developing economies were stumped with the scale of the ensuing pandemic caused by the novel Coronavirus. Every government, was open to take a lead and experiment, to effectively deal with this humanitarian crisis. I say experiment because, very few governments had ever seen a pandemic of this magnitude. Odisha’s rise to this CoVID situation, with its swift, ambitious & collaborative response, has taken many a governments by surprise. However, more than surprise, it is a response that could be emulated, a response that brings into light the strong foundations of governance in the state.

Odisha has been on a high-drive to an efficient and transparent governance system, for a long time now. Having closely worked with them as a Technology Implementation Partner, over the last two decades, I believe that the government knew, that they can rely on IT and their Governance in order to brace the situation. I have seen them dealing with one after another, repeated natural and man-made calamities every year, on the foundations of their impeccable governance. Only because, it stands out as a government, that has managed to defy size, defy gravity and defy the principles of lift during a crisis.

By putting up a united front of Government machinery & Public/Private workmanship

The size & complexity of bureaucracy alone brings in inertia and reduces speed to act. But not for Odisha. In a matter of days, the state geared up to realize the important role it had to play, to bring order to the chaos that CoVID is subjecting them to. After that, it was a story of unparalleled collaboration between multiple faculties of the government, working tirelessly with their network of technology partners, to manage a whole gamut of activities. Infection had to be kept in check, proliferation reduced, migrants identified, quarantine and health infrastructure to be readied, and much more. As always stated that Odisha resides in its villages, the government put power into the hands at the Panchayat level in an astonishing way-forward move.

But soon, we realized it was difficult and almost impossible, without a seamless inclusion of IT-enabled toolsets, to get a grip of this ever-increasing data. To get information to the decision-making body, we launched the COVID Portal that provided real-time access to information via several departments of the government. A 24*7 Helpdesk was set-up within a 48-hour window for both incoming and outgoing enquiries for health, migrants, advisory or just mental support. We had no time, but we had the size, strength and expertise of governance!

Size- defied.

By leveraging Technology & Innovation

Unprecedented times required unprecedented approach. The government of Odisha was quick to acknowledge that this pandemic was unlike any other disaster, it had successfully thwarted before. And it had to go beyond conventional wisdom to come out as a winner. To remain ahead of the curve- and to flatten it, the govt. has partnered with technology companies both large and small, to build rich datasets for evidence-based policy making. Structured around user journeys, such data sets provide insights on course corrections required at each step. For example: Data on Migrant journey covers registration, travel, check-in at borders, check-in at temporary medical camps (TMC), testing & check-out after treatment.

The command over such granular data on CoVID is reflected in Odisha’s State Dashboard. The dashboard, also had to work around the psyche of a citizen, locked inside her/his house since the last 50 days, and many more days to come. It had to give out information on the capability of the government to provide assurance and sustenance during the pandemic, all the while being exact and transparent. However, the government had other things to worry about too — the future.They have shown exceptional creativity in leveraging Predictive Analytics to foresee infection spread and gauge infrastructure preparedness for peak periods. Given the numbers we were dealing with, the key concern was speed!

Gravity- defied.

By planning, un-planning and re-planning

When an aeroplane starts to lift up, it has to do so, against the external conditions of pressure, weather, even birds. We have seen that sometimes, the best laid plans can often go wrong, when you need them the most. CoVID gave rise to such a moment in the worlds’ history. Extraneous circumstances like the uncertainties of the pandemic and the way governments respond to them, could be very decisive for a government.

Take Odisha’s example. As soon as state borders were opened, border check-posts were choked with volumes of unregistered vehicles and migrants, lining up to get past to their destinations. There were millions on foot, and on boats! Overnight, State Nodal officers reached out to contemporaries of other states to get pass details of vehicles, bound for Odisha. A control room was activated, to reach out to passengers and register them. Application for on-spot, bulk online registration by border check-post officials was also created. But nothing seemed enough. We required decentralization on information of these migrants coming in, by whatever means. Application logic was changed overnight, to accommodate bulk registrations. Numerous stakeholders in multiple departments were given power to register on their own and sync to the central database. All this was possible because of an alert state administration that had a solid Plan-A in place, but was also confident enough to face Murphy’s Law.

Principles of lift- defied.

There we go. Odisha acts because it listens. It listens because it cares. Against the odd of high vulnerability to natural disasters & low GDP per capita in comparison to other states in India, Odisha has been able to deliver because it excels in solidarity & collaboration; values that money can’t buy, values that trickle down from firm leadership.