The fight against coronavirus has brought a number of warriors to the forefront and DC Srinagar, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary is one of the warriors who is leading the torch, Ajaz Rashid reports

While a large number of people have dedicated themselves in the fight against COVID-19, some people stand at the forefront as the real warriors battling in this war. One such warrior is Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, whose efforts in trying to flatten the COVID-19 curve are at the top of the list. ‌Shahid, who is known among the masses as one of the rare bureaucrats who listens to the people’s grievances, has emerged as the man of the moment in the fight against coronavirus.

‌A 2008 batch Indian Administrative Service officer from Jammu and Kashmir cadre, Shahid secured an all-India rank 51 in the UPSC’s civil services exams for the year 2009. In the process, he became the first Muslim from Jammu region from J&K to get into IAS.

Shahid is known for his untiring efforts and for delivering results after joining bureaucracy, a professional otherwise know for red tape and lethargy.
‌No wonder he is a recipient of the National Award for Best Electoral conduct from Election Commission of India, National Award for e-Governance presented by Ministry of Personnel, Government of India, Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration, and National Award on women empowerment from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the category ‘Enabling Girl Child Education’ on International Women Day 2018. ‌

Shahid Iqbal Choudhary IAS

To tackle coronavirus in Srinagar, Shahid not only used the administration at his disposal but also roped in 45 Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). Shahid commended the NGOs and volunteers for their outstanding contribution in public outreach efforts during the lockdown and restrictions put in place in Srinagar in the wake of COVID-19 containment measures.
‌He appreciated the NGOs and volunteers
and said more than 45 NGOs had associated themselves with the district administration for providing assistance to residents ranging from food kits to hygiene kits, from medicines to shelter and other requirements.

Some of these NGOs included Kashmir Welfare Trust, Chinar International, Orphans in Need, Aab-e-Rawan, Suhuliyat Kashmir, Athrout, Infaq Foundation, and Care International. These NGOs in coordination with the Coordination Cell of the Srinagar administration constituted in March prioritised different areas and target groups in the district for providing assistance to families in need.

IAS Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary receiving Award from Prime Minister, Narender Modi

Shahid’s efforts saw more than 15,000 people were assisted by these NGOs with food kits, ration, medical aid besides other kinds of assistance.
The Srinagar district administration also provided dedicated vehicles and deputed a team of officers to facilitate the NGOs to assist the people.
The collaboration between the NGOs and the district administration resulted in the avoidance of duplication of resources and ensuring that aid reaches to all deserving families and the persons in need.

District Magistrate, Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary talks with Addl commissioner Covid19 Mitigation Efforts Kashmir, Mohd Aijaz walks on the shores of Dal lake during their visit at quarantine centre in Srinagar, April 03, 2020. Photo: Abid Bhat

Several organisations including the J&K Muslim Welfare Foundation and Yateem Trust provided assistance in the form of cash for patients and building of quarantine centres. Shahid appreciated the role played by the NGOs and called for institutionalising this arrangement between NGOs and administration for regular outreach in order to ensure that maximum people are covered and synergy among the organisations is ensured.

Shahid also held a meeting to discuss issues related to cases needing support for dialysis, medicines, provision of immune boosters, hygiene kits, and reaching out to daily wage earners, widows and orphans in need.
Shahid also appreciated the effective role played NGOs like Babul Uloom Educational Society, Save the Destitute Foundation, Dar ul Atta, Voluntary Medicare Society, Serving Nations and Help Foundation among others.

The Srinagar district administration led by Shahid tirelessly reached out to the residents in these unprecedented circumstances. It set-up a Special Helpline, 6006333308 at the call centre in the Deputy Commissioner’s Office to take care of the health-related issues with a special focus on patients suffering from kidney ailments, diabetes or cancer. Shahid said that dialysis had remained a major demand during the lockdown period when over 3300 patients had got the assistance of the helpline at 12 different designated dialysis centres in Srinagar city. Shahid also roped in several five-star hotels and houseboats in Srinagar for quarantine facilities and in the process helped their businesses that were badly hit since 5th August 2020 when Government of India abrogated the Article 370 and followed it up with month-long curfew, lockdown and internet shutdown.

Shahid roped in five-star hotels The Lalit and Taj Vivanta overlooking the picturesque Dal Lake and other luxury lodges as paid quarantine facilities to ensure a relaxed and hassle-free stay for those flying into the city from different parts of India and abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Srinagar administration enlisted around 40 luxury lodges for the purpose and capped the tariffs at a “fair and reasonable” level so as not to burden those returning home under such a difficult scenario. Shahid said that the Srinagar administration’s initiative to enlist luxury hotels received a warm response with nearly 48 percent of those arriving in the city from outside opting for them.
The remaining 52 percent of the flyers opted for institutional quarantine established by the government.

He said the number of arrivals at the Srinagar airport had been growing since the domestic air travel was partially resumed on May 25 after two months of suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to domestic flyers, a large number of residents of Jammu and Kashmir are being brought back from abroad in special flights under the government’s ‘Vande Bharat Mission’.

Giving details of the paid accommodations, Choudhary said the hotels had been made available in three categories with prices ranging from Rs 1200 to Rs 600 per day on single occupancy and Rs 900 to Rs 400 per day on double occupancy.
Shahid said the Srinagar administration had also capped the cost of three meals at Rs 500 at the paid quarantine centres.

Quarantine at hotels like Taj Vivanta and Lalit Grand Palace, a hotel known for its scenic surrounding and where several Hindi films have been shot, is available on-demand with around 50 percent discount in tariffs.
After initial hesitation, the number of air travellers has increased and only 25 of them have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.
Choudhary said the air operations at the Srinagar International Airport, which started on May 25, has been functioning with perfect management of arrivals, testing, and quarantine of travellers.

“International flights from Riyadh, Dammam, Doha, Muscat and Jeddah have already started arriving in addition to the Dubai flight received last week and earlier flights from Bangladesh. One flight carrying 148 passengers from Riyadh landed in Srinagar on May 29 while one flight each from Dammam and Doha with 147 and 88 passengers respectively is scheduled to arrive on Sunday. Another flight from Muscat is scheduled for June 2 and one from Jeddah on June 4,” he said.
Besides the paid quarantine, the Srinagar administration has kept a 3000-bedded institutional quarantine facility ready for quarantine.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration had earlier notified its air arrival policy mandating up to 14 days of quarantine unless tested negative for COVID-19.
Shahid said the arriving passengers are getting their test reports within 24 hours of arrival and being relieved from quarantine centres on testing negative.
Shahid also facilitated the students studying in Bangladesh who wanted to return home. He said before May 25, Srinagar had received four flights from Bangladesh with medical students on board and one from Dubai.
For international flights, one week quarantine is mandatory even with a negative test.
Shahid said more than 80 data entry operators and medical staff from Srinagar had been deployed at the airport for hassle-free, smooth and quick registration, screening and sampling on arrival, he said.

While Shahid had a plan for lockdown, he also has a plan for the revival of economic activities and is working in close coordination with Kashmir Inc to ensure that while people should get back to business, they should not suffer in the process. Flattening the COVID-19 curve still remains Shahid’s priority and majority of the people have shown faith in him because he is one of the rare Deputy Commissioners who listens to the people and this, right now, makes
him the man of the moment.


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