Booth-level COVID response in Bengaluru: Volunteer groups to monitor 500 families each

Given BBMP's centralised COVID response hasn't been quite effective, it has joined hands with civil society organisations for a booth-level system that will be driven by citizen volunteers. Citizens can register at the BLCARES website to volunteer.

BBMP launched BLCARES on August 14, to decentralise Bengaluru’s Covid management process. BLCARES or ‘Bengaluru Local – Covid-19 Awareness Response and Emergency Sahaya’ attempts to emulate the booth-level management technique during elections. 

The programme includes BLCARES.in, a tech platform developed by the joint effort of civil society organisations including Janaagraha, Sensing Local and Reap Benefit. These groups along with Citizens for Bengaluru, CIVIC, Hasiru Dala, Naavu Bharateeyaru, Slum Mahila Sanghatane, Azim Premji Foundation, etc., will also help in citizen volunteer mobilisation and training. The BLCARES platform also contains resources and IEC training material for volunteers. 

Centralised COVID response had invited criticism

In recent times, there have been a lot of changes in the hierarchy of Bengaluru’s official COVID response team. When the pandemic initially broke out, we did not have a template to go by. The responsibility of responding to the crisis largely fell on the bureaucracy, led by the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary. At the ground level, the BBMP and the Labour department, along with civil society members and groups, dealt with migrant workers and the containment of virus spread. But as the infection spread, a new chain of command was set up which was more centralised, and hence invited criticism.

Experts and activists have been advocating decentralising the management of the pandemic. Kathyayini Chamaraj of CIVIC has pointed out that Section 6(8) of the Ward Committee Rules of Karnataka mandates the formation of Ward Disaster Management Cells (WDMCs) to deal with such crises.

What’s the new booth-level system like?

Each of BBMP’s 198 wards is expected to have around 40 booth-level volunteer groups. Each booth volunteer group, in turn, will monitor an average of 500 families. They will have four major tasks:

  • Understanding the profile of their community and monitoring the health of the residents
  • Conducting surveys, maintaining a registry of people with co-morbidities
  • Contact tracing
  • Quarantine management and containment-zone monitoring

The volunteers are being recruited from local citizen groups, RWAs and NGOs. BBMP commissioner N Manjunath Prasad called this a citizen-led movement. Ward committees headed by the local corporator will oversee the working of these booth-level groups. Each ward has also been given a budget of Rs 20 lakh for COVID-related expenses, which will be authorised by the BBMP Commissioner.

You can register as a volunteer at the BLCARES website. Visit your local ward office for offline registrations.

Inspired by panchayat-level task forces 

L K Ateeq, Principal Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, has been appointed as the Team Lead, Community in the COVID Management Task Force, and has been helping BBMP replicate the system he set up in rural Karnataka. He says, “There are 25,000 villages in Karnataka and about 6000 panchayats. We quickly learnt that in order to address this pandemic, every village needed to have a task force, which is essentially what the booth-level system is. The rural demographic was quick to pick up on the fact that they would have to address the management of the pandemic as a community. The community sentiment is what is missing in the urban scenario. We know nothing about our neighbours.” 

Challenges with the new system too

BBMP had set up Citizen Quarantine Squads in June, and thousands of volunteers had signed up for that too. Then came the zonal management structure, with a Minister/MLA in charge, IAS-level special officer and zonal Joint Commissioner (under whom are the Health Officer, KAS officer and Tashildhar). But given that zone-level populations are quite high, managing zones has proven cumbersome.

The zonal structure created in July 2020

Ateeq points out having multiple teams of volunteers with disparate approaches would not help. “We need a single team with a multi-disciplinary approach to streamline management.” It remains to be seen if the various groups coalesce into a single structure, flexible yet strong. 

While BBMP had initially tried to get the Election Commission-appointed Booth-Level Officers  (BLOs) to be part of the BLCARES programme, most of them did not turn up. Ateeq says, “At the start, only 20% of the officers turned up for the training. Many of them cited the fact that they had co-morbid conditions, etc. The Joint Commissioners of the zones were then asked to find alternatives.”

Atheeq highlights the importance of sourcing volunteers locally. Sapna Karim of Janaagraha agrees, “Localised access to emergency response and support systems can only be undertaken with citizen engagement, and we will be able to cover every single street and neighborhood.”

The interesting thing about the BLCARES programme is the way it has brought together the government and civil society organically. Sapna believes this will emerge as a seamless platform to battle the pandemic.

Also read:
► “Better ward-level governance could have saved Bengaluru’s migrant workers during lockdown”
► COVID response: “Bengaluru is overlooking every management lesson from history”
► Tackling COVID in slums: How to set up community quarantine centres

Comments:

  1. Kumar says:

    Centralised contact center or covid support center none of your dept/wing has basic information about Covid affected wards. I called to enquire a place within Jayanagar 8th block but was given answer “go there and see if barricade is there then it is containment zone” if I need to go there and check then why the hell would I enquire with BBMP right? Useless as usual

  2. Sagar says:

    Somewhere the local doctors need to factor in and they need to lead this effort rather than citizens. with the constant chopping and changing of COVID 19 teams, its better to hand over the reins to doctors.

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