When someone in Chennai showed Covid symptoms this May and needed immediate medical care, the chances were a cab kitted out with an oxygen cylinder would have ferried the patient to a hospital—or probably to a health centre of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) outfitted with oxygen support if no bed was available in a fully equipped hospital treating coronavirus cases. Also, real-time alerts about the rush at hospitals made certain that the taxi driver took the patient to the right place, where beds and caregivers were on hand. That’s one of the innovative interventions the Chennai Corporation implemented after a disaster expert was appointed as its commissioner to bring down the high incidence of 7,000 Covid cases a day. Gagandeep Singh Bedi, a 53-year-old engineer-turned-IAS-officer, had made a mark by his deft and sensitive handling of several past disasters—tsunami, floods and cyclones—that Tamil Nadu faced.
The Stalin government asked Bedi to head the Chennai Corporation, though the post was below what he had held: agriculture secretary. The smiling Sikh from Hoshiarpur took it up earnestly. Soon the people of Chennai had “fever survey workers” (FSW) at their doorsteps checking their temperature. Those with high readings were referred to “fever camps” in the area. “Within the first week we recruited 12,000 FSWs, each of whom covered 100-150 houses and mobilised symptomatic individuals to fever camps for RT-PCR tests,” Bedi says.