Kerala will form a youth volunteer force to help in the fight against COVID-19. This was announced by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan after the high-level review meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday.
The plan is to mobilise a volunteer army of 2.36 lakh youths between the age of 22 and 40 to take up various necessary services that have cropped up in the wake of the outbreak. All the 941 panchayats in Kerala have been asked to identify 200 volunteers each, the 87 municipalities will pick 500 each, the six corporations will pick 750 each; together, they will swell to form an army of 2.36 lakh volunteers.
“Voluntary work has been considered highly important in these times,” the Chief Minister said. “The force will be of great help to both speed up and scale up the activities of the local bodies. They can also infuse greater efficiency into the work of the Health Department,” he said.
The registration of volunteers will be done online. A web portal, Sannadham (I am ready), has been created for the purpose. Those willing should register their names in this portal, the Chief Minister said. “This is the need of the time and the youth should come forward in a big way to take up this social responsibility,” Pinarayi said.
Responsibilities of volunteers
These volunteers will have to take up various social responsibilities. They will have to reach the food packets and provisions to families, both poor and those in quarantine. “There are many who could not cook food and others who are not in a position to go out to buy food. They need help, and these volunteers will provide them with all the necessary help,” the Chief Minister said. In short, they will have to carry food from 'community kitchens' that are fast coming up in various parts of the state to the homes of the needy.
There could be isolated families, living far away from the mainstream and, with the lockdown in place, suddenly cut off from the rest of the world. “Some of these volunteers will be asked to identify these families and reach them all possible assistance,” the Chief Minister said.
It will also be the responsibility of volunteers to remain as bystanders for non-COVID-19 patients who had been put to certain difficulties with many government hospitals being converted as COVID Care centres.
The volunteers will be provided with identity cards. Their travel expenses will be met by the concerned local body.
The Chief Minister said the government already had plans to develop a volunteer army. “We had realised the need for a volunteer force to help people in distress right after a series of natural calamities struck our state. For that, a special directorate had even started functioning (under the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority). Now, with the formation of the volunteer force we are going to make this directorate fully functional,” he said.
The Chief Minister said the Kerala State Youth Commission was able to find 1465 volunteers in a single day. “They will be made part of the volunteer army that we will be creating,” Pinarayi said.
He also said there was no bar on individual organisation doing voluntary work on their own. “They can go about their usual work. But this volunteer force will not be identified on the basis of any particular flag or colour,” the Chief Minister said.
The Chief Minister said community kitchens have already begun functioning in Kerala. He said 43 local bodies in the state had found places for the kitchens and started delivering food. Of the 941 panchayats, 861 have found a place to begin the kitchens. Of the 87 municipalities, 84 had identified a building that could be converted into a community kitchen. Six corporations have found nine places where hey could operate community kitchens.
The Chief Minister said that 715 panchayats have created a helpline for the people in the area to call for any help. He said that by now 15,433 ward-level committees, which will draw up the list of the houses that require food and medical assistance, have started functioning in rural areas. In urban centres, 3483 ward committees are functional. Already, 16,785 volunteers have started work. They will be absorbed into the official volunteer force.
Free movement of goods
The Chief Minister said wholesale dealers had been told to stock enough goods to last the state for three to four months. He said he had assured wholesale dealers the smooth flow of inter-state goods traffic. “We will talk to all the state governments concerned and even the Centre to sort out any issues in the flow of interstate traffic of goods,” the Chief Minister said.
The Chief Minister also said that heavy vehicles transporting essentials to Kerala would be exempted from taking permit under Section 66(3) in The Motor Vehicles Act. At the moment, only government vehicles or transport not commercial in nature are given such exemptions.