By Bizodisha Bureau, Bhubaneswar, December 27, 20209: Like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic was writ large on Odisha in 2020. The year also saw the vagaries of nature, as a super cyclone and floods left a trail of destruction in the coastal State.

Moreover, a couple of various controversies hit the headlines in the mass media in the final months of the year. But by and large, it remained a lacklustre year for the State.

Odisha, however, was able to save itself from the wrath of the deadly pandemic thanks to the prompt and proactive steps by the Naveen Patnaik government to tackle the pandemic, which claimed over 1,850 lives. Patnaik had ordered closure of several public places in the second week of March, when the state was yet to report a single COVID-19 case, and days before the nationwide lockdown kicked in.

Official attributed effective governance, robust health infrastructure and mass testing, efficient handling of migrant workers, including screening and quarantine, involvement of women self-help groups and ‘Mission Shakti’ to the successful handling of the pandemic management.

When the first COVID-19 case was reported on March 15, the state control rooms were already functional, while capacity building, awareness campaigns about hygiene, hand washing, sanitisation, social distancing, use of face masks and respiratory etiquette were also in place, he said.

Besides, Odisha was among the few states to have created a COVID-19 hospital in every district in record time. It also set up an inter-departmental task force to oversee and monitor the pandemic management.

The state government set up over 50 dedicated hospitals with around 7,500 beds, 178 COVID care centres and 17,647 temporary medical centres (TMCs).

Among other measures, the state government unveiled a Rs 17,000-crore plan to support the livelihood of people, including farmers and migrant workers, hit hard by the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic and long spells of lockdown, according to Chief Secretary A K Tripathy.

Odisha’s recovery rate has now increased to around 98.50 per cent, among the highest in the country, while the reporting rate of fresh COVID-19 cases declined to 0.96 per cent.

Just months into the pandemic, super cyclone Amphan, which in spite of making landfall in neighbouring West Bengal, barreled through vast parts of Odisha in May, bringing in its wake a trail of devastation in Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Bhadrak and Balasore.

The state government maintained that it ensured “zero casualty” by undertaking timely evacuation of people from vulnerable areas.

Nature was in no mood to relent as the state was soon faced with a flood-like situation, owing to heavy downpour triggered by a series of low pressure areas over the Bay of Bengal.

Major rivers, including Mahanadi, were flowing over the danger mark in August, affecting several districts like Jajpur, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Cuttack and Puri.

There were also a number of controversies as opposition Congress and the BJP mounted a scathing attack on the BJD government for “gross mismanagement” in Covid care centres and “large-scale corruption” in procurement of equipment and PPE kits.

The allegations prompted the Odisha Lokayukta to order the vigilance department to launch a detailed probe. Two senior IAS officers have already appeared before the Lokayukta on four occasions as part of the investigation.

Odisha was also rocked by the kidnapping and murder of a five-year-old girl, with the incident coming to light after the parents of the minor attempted self-immolation in front of the state assembly in November.

The opposition was quick to pan the state government, demanding a CBI investigation, besides the dismissal of Agriculture Minister Arun Kumar Sahoo, accusing him of shielding the main accused.

Odisha’s ruling dispensation subsequently ordered a court-monitored probe by a special investigation team, but it came under criticism from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which termed the exercise “severely flawed” with “glaring defects”, and sought disciplinary action against the investigating officers.

As the year drew to a close, there was uproar over detection of alleged ill-gotten wealth by a senior Indian Forest Service officer with close links to Gopalpur MLA Pradeep Panigrahi.

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