Major mining districts such as Keonjhar and Sundargarh in Odisha and Bhilwara and Rajsamand in Rajasthan have sanctioned sizeable funds
As the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues to fan panic and affect thousands in India, states are stepping up measures to curb the spread.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 27, 2020 directed state governments to use district mineral foundation (DMF) funds to supplement healthcare facilities, screening and testing requirements.
Big mining districts such as Keonjhar and Sundargarh in Odisha and Bhilwara and Rajsamand in Rajasthan have already sanctioned sizeable funds for the same.
Sitharaman’s announcement was followed by a letter by the Ministry of Mines (MoM), which specified that districts with at least one COVID-19 positive case can use the funds for medical infrastructure or equipment. In other cases, funds can be used for purchase of masks, sanitisers, food distribution to the poor etc, in case other funds fall short.
The MoM letter underscored that COVID-19 relief expenditure must not exceed 30 per cent of the balance funds available and should be used as one-time relaxation.
DMFs are non-profit trust set up in the country’s mining districts to “work for the interest and benefit of people and areas affected by mining-related operations”. The trusts were set up after an amendment in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015.
The funds are collected at the district level. There are certain high-priority areas identified in all states’ DMF rules, where at least 60 per cent of the funds must be used. These include areas such as drinking water, healthcare, nutrition, livelihood, sanitation etc.
According to MoM figures, close to Rs 36,000 crore has been collected in DMFs across the country till January 2020.
Rajasthan stepping up response
Bhilwara has emerged as one of the hubs in Rajasthan with 26 positive cases so far, since mid-March. It is also the biggest mining district in Rajasthan with about Rs 1,200 crore DMF collection.
The district has released Rs 2.4 crore for COVID-19 response for purchase of ventilators, masks, sanitiser as well as arranging cooked food for migrants stranded in the district. Pali and Rajsamand have sanctioned Rs 86 lakh and Rs 30 lakh respectively.
While Bhilwara and Pali recorded positive COVID-19 cases, Rajsamand has not, so far. However, officials said that waiting for the first case to kick start arrangements in place would not be wise. Reinforcements, therefore, have already started.
“So far,15 districts have recorded positive cases and all of them have been authorised to use 30 per cent of the remaining DMF funds as per the needs in line with the MoM directions,” said Gaurav Goyal, director, department of mines and geology, Rajasthan.
“Healthcare is already a high priority area under DMF. Hence, we were already counting on the funds as they are available at the district level,” said a senior official from Bhilwara administration.
The biggest DMF district in the country, Keonjhar, with a collection of Rs 4,000 crore so far, has sanctioned Rs 7.4 crore for COVID-19 relief. Odisha is in the process of setting up preemptive measures as well.
“We are setting up isolation centres and COVID-19 hospitals across the state. However, we will leave it to the district administration to take a call on using DMF funds based on the requirements,” said Suresh Mahapatra, development commissioner, Odisha planning and convergence department.
Keonjhar has sanctioned funds for a host of works including upgradation of health facilities such as primary health centres, community health centres, the sub divisional and district hospital; hiring paramedics across these facilities through a local agency for quick response; setting up quarantine facilities for asymptomatic but exposed cases; awareness campaigns, screening and personal protective equipment (PPE), etc.
“About180 paramedics will join us soon. We are also in the process of creating a COVID-19 only hospital in one of the vacant buildings we have,” a district official told DTE.
Officials said that upgrading health facilities will also be of use in the long run for ensuring better health access.
“Since this is an emergency, these changes are being done on high priority and with all available resources and manpower. Many of these are works that had to be taken up over the time anyway,” the official added.
Sundargarh, another big mining district in Odisha, has sanctioned Rs 5 crore so far for isolation centres as well as a COVID-19 only hospital. The district has also purchased ventilators and ambulances through DMF funds.
“We had already been investing in healthcare through DMF and are now topping up some of these,” said Nikhil Pavan Kalyan, collector, Sundargarh.
“For other things like masks, testing kits, etc, we have other sources of funds available,” he added.
Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant also announced that Rs 52 crore from DMF in the state will be used to handle COVID-19 outbreak.
All districts DTE contacted said the focus was to upgrade facilities in a way that they could serve in future too.
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