Raigad district collector Nidhi Chaudhari
Raigad district collector Nidhi Chaudhari

Navi Mumbai: She knows that actions speak louder than words. Her adept handling of Cyclone Nisarga along with the Coronavirus crisis has made Raigad district collector Nidhi Chaudhari a household name. However, the district administration is now gearing up to tackle the huge influx of people returning to their native villages in Raigad to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. In an exclusive interview with FPJ, Chaudhari talks about the challenges ahead and her success mantra.

Q. What is your assessment of the COVID-19 situation in Raigad district?

Raigad shares its borders with Mumbai, Thane and Pune which have been affected by COVID-19. There is a huge floating population in the district which does regular up-down in MMR districts. Therefore, Raigad remains vulnerable to the spread of COVID. We are taking all efforts to keep it in check, especially after the opening up of public transport in MMR recently.

Q. How did the administration handle the Nisarga cyclone and COVID-19 together?

It was tough but we assembled all our courage and determination to save lives from Nature’s fury and the virus. It required tremendous planning before the Nisarga hit our shores. We evacuated a maximum number of people from kutcha houses, slums and ensured that means of communication via road and telecom remained undisturbed post cyclone. During the same time, it was pertinent to focus on uninterrupted power supply in COVID facilities.

Q. How many villages bore the brunt of the cyclone what immediate steps were taken to restore normalcy?

Nisarga affected most of our villages. Electricity was disconnected in 1976 villages and over 2 lakh houses were partially damaged. Over 2000 houses were fully damaged. Due to timely evacuation, we could ensure loss of lives to minimum. We had established wireless, Ham Radio and Satellite phones in all tehsil control rooms to stay connected. NDRF, Coast Guard and Civil Defence teams deployed very strategically.

Q. Did the pandemic pose difficulty in relief works?

The difficulty was immense especially when we were visiting villages and convincing people for evacuation. It required a personal touch and it wasn’t possible with masks and physical distancing norms. We as administrators decided to risk ourselves and convinced people to move out of their unsafe homes. It was a tight rope walk to manage COVID contagion in a Cyclone affected area.

Q. How did you manage the COVID crisis when the cyclone disrupted power supply?

I must admit that we couldn't imagine such devastation of electricity infrastructure. Today, we have reconnected all our affected villages. It took more than 50 days for some villages to get electricity. Energy Minister Dr Nitin Raut and his entire department played a critical role in restoring electricity.

Q. What is your immediate plan of action as the active cases are over 3,000?

Our aim has always been "test, trace and treat". We have created ample CCC facilities and if timely testing is done, most people will recover. We have also encouraged many private hospitals to start COVID services. We have directed industries to set up their own CCCs and DCHC to provide additional support to the existing facilities.

Q. Does the district administration have enough ventilators?

Currently, we have 69 ventilators and 882 Oxygen supported beds. A total of 216 ICU beds are also available.

Q. What preparations has the administration made for Ganesh Chaturthi?

We have appealed to all citizens to celebrate the festival at their current place of residence and avoid travelling. The COVID Control Committee of the village is responsible for monitoring the visits and home isolations of incoming citizens. Regarding law and order, the Police and Highway authorities have been directed to maintain peace and uninterrupted traffic movement.

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