Across remote villages in the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh, a new problem has cropped up in the wake of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Villagers desperate for vaccines allege that urbanites belonging to the 18-44 year age group are digitally booking slots at their rural vaccination centres, arriving in their vehicles for the jabs, and running down stocks meant for them.
The pattern is repeated across many districts. Villagers allege this is as much because of poor internet connectivity in the villages and hamlets, as their technological backwardness.
The state government has fixed only two weekdays, Monday and Thursday, for vaccination slots in the 18-44 age category. The portal opens two days before the next schedule, and those who are unable to book slots, have to wait for the next opportunity, where they miss out again and again as urbanites keep hogging the slots.
Photojournalist Lalit Kumar who lives in his village in Arki tehsil of Solan district, said he saw several cars, bearing registration numbers of other areas, including of Delhi, driving to their local vaccination centre at Basantpur. “Villagers have filed complaints with health authorities as people from mostly urban areas are stealing slots meant for them. The pattern is almost the same in Shimla and Kangra villages,” he added.
Villagers, who are not tech-savvy, take a lot of time to fill up their identification details over slow internet connections. Before they can complete filling up the forms, the slots at the closest vaccination centres are all booked. Reports say it takes 10-15 minutes for all slots to get blocked.
In Kangra, reports from rural panchayats of Nurpur, Baijnath, Jawali, Palampur and Fatehpur reveal villagers did not get any slot as outsiders hijacked them all.
It was the same in Bilaspur and Mandi districts. In rural areas of Shimla district, which has a large population of 18-44 year-olds in areas like Rohru, Chopal, Rampur, Theog and Jubbal, also reported the same problem.
Dr Nipun Jindal, mission director, National Health Mission (NHM), said the matter has come to their already. “We’ve taken up the issue with the Ministry of Health, GoI, and also written to them asking for a solution. Rural areas of Himachal Pradesh don’t have reliable internet connectivity. Villagers, except for those using smartphones, etc., are also not so tech savvy. We’ve asked GoI to allow us to keep a certain percentage of slots offline,” he said.
In the tribal area of Lahaul Spiti, the centre has allowed 80 per cent of the booking of vaccination slots for 18-44 year age groups for offline booking. Thereafter, eligible persons who get registered are invited for jabs through a lottery.
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