When Andhra Pradesh chief minster Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy proposed to launch a village volunteer system last year, it drew a lot of flak from Opposition parties, which claimed that only those associated with the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) would benefit from the move.

The volunteer system has now come in handy for the state government, which has been conducting large-scale surveys to identify and map covid-19 clusters and track nearly 14,000 people across the state who had recently returned from abroad.

The village and ward volunteers were hired to coordinate and implement government welfare programmes in more than 11,000 villages of the state. Under the scheme, there is one volunteer for every 50 households to ensure that government benefits reach citizens.

The nearly 250,000 village and ward volunteers have already helped survey 14.1 million of the 14.3 million households in Andhra Pradesh in the past few weeks, according to state government officials.

Andhra Pradesh is one of severely hit states in south India and has 420 positive cases so far, with most of the patients being linked to the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at Nizamuddin in Delhi last month.

“We have already conducted two surveys across the state, in which the village volunteers along with auxiliary nurse midwives and accredited social health activists went to every household in Andhra Pradesh. If anyone was found to be showing symptoms, it was immediately reported to the state administration,” said a senior official of the state government who did not want to be named.

As part of the containment measures undertaken by the state government, all village and ward volunteers had also been instructed to check on people who had returned from abroad and ensure that all of them were in quarantine.

“Had it not been for this system, the state would have had to hire people for this job and that would have taken a lot of time,” said the official quoted above.

The YSRCP termed these volunteers “corona warriors” and said that the scheme is “acting like a bridge between the government and the public”.

On Sunday, the Andhra Pradesh government also said that it will distribute 16 crore masks to the people and expedite a third survey, which will focus on clusters identified as hotspots.

The state health department aims to conduct 45,000 tests across Andhra Pradesh, prioritizing covid-19 prevalent zones, said a government press release.

As many as 27 mandals out of the 676 mandals across 13 districts of the state have been declared as red zones and have been cordoned-off. The state has identified 141 containment clusters overall as a preventive measure to contain covid-19.

“Opposition parties will always have a justification to oppose something. Now the state government can justify its action as it had the machinery for this task,” said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

At a time when digitization is killing jobs, one should appreciate any measure taken for job creation, said Reddy.

“It is a different argument if the jobs can be sustained and if payments can be made for all five years. The salaries are also not high and more of an honorarium,” Reddy said.

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