Tarun Pithode with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Tarun Pithode with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
File photo

BHOPAL: The word corona is as frightful as a cobra in a dark green forest. For that reason, the thought of how a man, who was responsible for handling the situation created by that creepy virus, makes someone’s hair stand on the end. It was a challenge — a challenge that only a few would accept. And Pithode did that. On March 22, when the first coronavirus patient was detected in Bhopal, Tarun Pithode’s strenuous trek to fight down the disease in the city began. Then, he was the collector of Bhopal.

He was shifted from that post on June 18. It was an epic battle that Pithode led against the virus for 89 days. He was working as collector of the state capital on those days. Now, Pithode plans to write a tome on his corona-related experiences. The book, likely to be published after two months, may turn out to be an important document for those who are involved in crisis management.

After Bengaluru and New Delhi, Bhopal was the centre of all activities associated with the toppling of the Congress government. The Vidhan Sabha session was called. Important politicians were visiting the state capital every day; and press conferences were regularly held.

In the meantime, law and order had to be maintained and the pandemic arrested. Pithode and his team never fell short of expectations. They worked as precisely as a surgeon’s scalpel. It was after his transfer that the number of patients suddenly shot up in the state capital, but the situation remained under control.The main reason was that, between March and June, he activated the system so much so that the rise in number of patients did not have any impact on the people.

Now, let’s see what Pithode says about his experiences.  He says many corona cases were reported from different parts of the country. At that time, he regularly held discussions with the chief medical and health officer about the pandemic. There were clear indications that the virus would soon hit the state capital. Many people felt bad when he stopped shaking hands with them from February. Some of them even called it a showbiz.

The virus was near the state by March. He says no sooner had the first corona patient been found in Jabalpur than it was clear that the virus began to cast its blank and pitiless glance at the state. This was the reason why the first corona case found in the state on March 22 did not surprise him. He got the patient admitted to AIIMS and plunged into action to keep the virus at bay. Then it seemed the fight would soon end. But he realised the struggle would continue.

Pithode says, “Now, the disease is being fought on various fronts.” He says when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day lockdown on March 24 he had to fight on two fronts: to make arrangements for the lockdown and to battle against the virus. The former collector of Bhopal says the administration systematised the supply of vegetables, but, suddenly, a trader in the Mandi was diagnosed with Covid-19. That rattled everyone in the administration.

He says the Mandi (main market) had to be closed down; however, as the vegetables were not available, he had to bear the brunt of criticism from all and sundry. After that incident, vegetables were kept either outside the Mandi or at some other place. Pithode says, “For the first time, I realised that making arrangements for vegetables could be part of a collector’s job.”

He went home for a few days after the lockdown. But, in the first week of April, as he was anxious about his family members, he began to live in the IFS guest house. He stayed there for a month. DIG Irshad Wali and a few other police officers were with him during that crucial period. Whenever he went home after taking a bath, he would speak to his children from a distance of 20 feet. “The worries of father and sadness of wife were reflected in their eyes, but they never lost courage; sometimes I would meet my children at night,” he says.

The rise in the number of patients from Jamaat really put him in a stew. What most worried him was the explosion of the virus in Jehangirabad and Mangalwara. Every morning he had to explain to the higher-ups the reasons for the rising number of patients. Apart from that, he had to make arrangements at hospitals for the patients and food for the workers that nobody should sleep unfed. Those were the thoughts that preoccupied him day and night.

Pithode says he had to scale the four-foot walls to do contact tracing of the patients. He says he heaved a sigh of relief when the unlocking began, but, then, he was scared thinking lest the number of patients should suddenly rise. He says the government systematised the facilities at the hospitals so much so that nobody should be in want of medical aid.

Pithode says although his role in the government has changed, the battle against the stubborn virus continues. On the ground of the challenges he faced in those crucial days, he has appealed to people to follow the corona protocols and wear visors, that there may not be another such lockdown.

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