7,000 cases/day to 2,600 — how this IAS officer turned it around for Chennai in a fortnight


Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi took charge last month | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint


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New Delhi: It’s been less than a month since IAS officer Gagandeep Singh Bedi was appointed as commissioner of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), but he is already making waves with his innovative initiatives amid the Covid crisis.

From starting at-home vaccination for people with disabilities to starting a taxi ambulance service that was in the list of best practices shared by the Union health ministry with Prime Minister Modi last month — Bedi has stood true to his image as the ‘Mascot of Disaster Management’, a title he gained on account of his work during the 2004 tsunami and the 2018 Gaja cyclone.

Singh was given charge of the Greater Chennai Corporation on 9 May by the newly elected M.K. Stalin government in Tamil Nadu. When he took over, Bedi had a to-do list ready to tackle the second wave in the GCC area. 

In the days since, there has been a turnaround in Chennai’s Covid situation. The city, which was recording nearly 7,000 cases daily in mid-May, saw the number reduce to less than 2,600 by the end of the month. 

Speaking to ThePrint, Bedi attributed this to the ‘Revised Micro-plan for Covid management’, devised by the GCC after he came in. The plan prioritises early identification of infection through surveillance by health workers, and this, Bedi said, has helped reduce the spread of the disease.

The 1993-batch IAS officer, who works 13-14 hours a day, is lauded by his batchmates as a team player who still approaches work with the zeal of a newcomer. 

Sunil Paliwal, the Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Kamarajar Port Ltd, who has served with Bedi, said “he works from his heart”. “After 26 years of service, his enthusiasm can match that of any new recruit.

“Bedi is an efficient planner and a team player. He has a knack for making his team understand his goals and involving every single one of them.”

Another serving officer, who did wish to be named, said, “The fact that he was assigned this role during the pandemic is a testament to his capabilities.”

On his part, Bedi credited his work in the GCC to the help extended by the state government and his colleagues in the corporation. “As IAS officers, when we see a positive outcome of concentrated efforts, it pushes us to do better,” he added.


Also Read: Actor’s death fuels vaccine hesitancy in Tamil Nadu amid Covid surge, misinformation adds fire


Bringing the vaccination drive home

One of Bedi’s most lauded initiatives in the GCC has been the at-home vaccination service for those with disabilities, which has been praised by vaccine expert Dr Gagandeep Kang, among others. 

Discussing the drive, Bedi said the GCC organised three types of vaccination support for the disabled “once we realised that they were facing trouble getting vaccinated”. 

“First was helping them with getting slots, those who were capable of visiting centres were provided with cabs. and those who couldn’t were administered vaccines at home itself. So far, we have vaccinated about 3,500 disabled people,” he added.

Another key initiative was vaccinating delivery personnel working for apps such as Zomato, Amazon, Uber and Swiggy as ‘priority workers’.

The taxi ambulances launched in Chennai are meant to reduce the pressure on oxygen-equipped 108 ambulances. The GCC has launched 250 taxi ambulances, which help mildly ill patients — who do not require oxygen — with transportation.  

In addition to this, the commissioner has helped strengthen the network and reach of the 12,000 people recruited from local communities as health workers in 2020.  

The GCC has a total population of 80 lakh people divided into 200 divisions and 3 regions. These workers conduct door-to-door testing and checks to ensure no Covid cases go undetected. They also help those in quarantine with essentials. 

Bedi holds daily review meetings and has deployed 200 mobile teams with autorickshaws at the division level to cover household testing and fever camps. In addition to this, 10 mobile testing units with vans have been deployed to test high-risk groups like market vendors.

One of these workers, Meenakshi (29), who is conducting a door-to-door fever survey in north Chennai, said she “covers one street a day, which has about 60 houses”. 

“My work starts at 7.30 am and goes on till 1.30 pm,” she said. “After inspecting each house, I write down all the information in a notebook and give it to the corporation headquarters.

“My role is to check for fever symptoms, body pain and also help patients in home quarantine get groceries and essentials,” she added. “Many pregnant women and senior citizens who can’t step out during the lockdown seek my help. I feel content in helping them,” she said.

On the second day after he took charge, as cases rose and oxygen shortages were reported, Bedi said the corporation was “shifting focus from treating patients after they test positive to treating them the minute they start showing symptoms”. 

“I have issued two orders that have brought people getting tested in private hospitals and getting their CT scans done under the ambit of the GCC. Once we have their information, our fever doctors reach out to them and ensure that the diseased are attended to immediately,” he added, speaking to ThePrint soon after he took up the commissioner’s role.

Help on social media

Among other things, the officer, known for his tech-friendly approach, has encouraged social media engagement in the GCC as well. Complaints raised by residents are picked up via Twitter and Facebook, the officer said.

“I have instructed the control room team to look for such complaints on Facebook and Twitter and flag them. Immediate action is taken once such requests are tagged,” he added.

Social media is also where several citizens have turned over the past two weeks to thank the GCC for their prompt services.

 

Even as the efforts on the Covid front continue, Bedi is also overseeing different initiatives to address some other problems faced by the GCC jurisdiction. One such effort is the 10-day mass cleaning exercise launched by the GCC on 28 May to remove 500 metric tonnes of solid waste everyday. 

“Keeping in mind that there is a waste disposal problem in Chennai, the lockdown provided a good opportunity to initiate such an activity,” Bedi said. “In addition, this will reduce the advent of diseases like cholera, dengue etc during the pandemic.” 

Bedi said he personally monitors the drive. “Every morning, I reach the site at 7.30 am with sanitary workers and we ensure that the task is completed successfully.”

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)


Also Read: Tamil Nadu’s showpiece primary healthcare is on display here in Thoothukudi in 2nd Covid wave


 

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