After five small villages in the state independently attained Covid-free status in May, the Maharashtra government has now come up with a unique proposal to inspire more such rural settlements to "chase away the virus".
Rural Development Minister Hasan Mushrif on Wednesday announced a Covid-Free Village Competition with fat cash prizes to be implemented across the state soon.
"If the villages become free from the coronavirus, then the talukas, districts, regions, and the entire state will be rid of the scourge as soon as possible, with the participation of the common people," he said.
The competition comes close on the heels of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray last week lavishing praises on villages that had virtually "barred the gates" on the coronavirus by taking strict initiatives at the local level and setting a national example.
The villages include: Hivare Bazaar where the initiative was inspired by Padma Shri awardee Popatrao Pawar, and Bhoyare Khurd (both in Ahmednagar district), Bhosi in Nanded which earned the Centre's laurels, and Antroli and Ghatane villages, both in Solapur district.
Incidentally, 21-year-old educated youth head the two villages - Komal Karpe, a botanist, is the Sarpanch of Antroli and lawyer Ruturaj Deshmukh of Ghatane.
Both shot to overnight fame after their efforts to make their respective villages Corona-free earned a mention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Thackeray just last week.
The competition shall be held in all the six revenue divisions of the state with top three prizes for each division- Rs 50 lakh, Rs 25 lakh, and Rs 15 lakh- to the villages coming out with flying colours in controlling the Covid-19 contagion, now compounded by the black fungus menace that is rearing its head in the state.
"We shall be giving away a total of 18 first, second, and third prizes in each division and the amount would be Rs 5.40 crore. This amount will be spent by the winner villages for carrying out various development and other works in their vicinity," Mushrif said.
Additionally, these winning villages which perform well in making their regions Covid-free shall also be entitled to additional funds of Rs 50 lakh, Rs 25 lakh, and Rs 15 lakh each, as incentives and the money would be used for priority development projects.
Mushrif said that villages shall be judged on the basis of 22 different criteria by a special committee of experts, the details of which will be announced shortly and appealed to all villages to participate in the competition to make their areas 'Covid-free'.
Here he recalled the contribution of former Deputy Chief Minister, the late R. R. Patil of Sangli who launched the "Sant Gadge Baba Clean Village Mission" in 2010, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.
On October 2, 2014, PM Modi himself picked up a broom to launch the 'Swachha Bharat Mission' nationwide which was dedicated to Gandhiji.
Mushrif said that Patil's SGBCVM had created a feeling of determination and envy among the villages which vied with each other to adopt cleanliness as a way of life, and he hoped the same would be achieved with the upcoming 'Covid-free Village Competition' in the state as the state grapples with the deadlier second wave of coronavirus.
Till date, Maharashtra has recorded 57,61,015 Covid cases and 96,198 fatalities - both highest in the country - besides 230,681 active cases, and the scourge is now affecting the rural areas more than the urban centres, as per official data.