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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 27, New Delhi, June 20, 2020

Civil Society in the time of Covid-19 | Mahi Pal

Saturday 20 June 2020

by Dr. Mahi Pal

Role Civil Society (CS) which is also known as Civil Society Organisations(CSOs), Non- Governmental Organisations(NGOs), Voluntary Organisations (VOs) may be registered under any Act and non registered is very important in rescue operations, coordination, assessment and imparting training to persons engaged in the disaster management. On account of these qualities of CS, its role has been recognized and included in The Disaster Management Act 2005 in organising and coordinating specialized training programmes for different levels of officers, employees, rescue workers, creating awareness and mitigation the impact of the disaster with the support of government agencies/authorities. That is why the NITI Aayog within a week of the lockdown had appealed to more than 92, 000 NGOs for helping the government in various activities in managing the Covid-19 across India. Most of the NGOs are engaged in relief and welfare works in rural areas and for their finance resorted to crowdfunding to carry out their relief work.

A large section of CS is engaged in helping the people who are in need of meeting out basic needs like food in time of COVID-19 crisis. Numerous registered Societies, Trusts, Associations religious associations are engaged in providing relief to affected people. Self Help Groups (SHGs) and their federations are one of them. SHGs have been created in rural areas with proper social mobilization under National Rural Livelihoods Mission(NRLM). These SHGs are engaged in various economic generation activities relevant in local context. These Groups have also been engaged in masks making both washable and non-washable, sanitizer packing, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) making in all the districts in the State of Haryana for instance. Similarly, in other states these might have been engaged in such activities at different level of intensity. An example of Panipat in Haryana is worth mentioning here where SHGs and their Federations prepared lakhs of masks. A federation of SHGs of 12 villages have purchased sanitizer from a Sugar Mill in bulk and filled in bottles for consumer use and prepared 3400 PPE for the use in Covid-19. One member of the SHG is known as Sevika is engaged in awareness creation about the precautions including social distancing to be taken to be safe from Covid-19. Mostly members of SHGs are from vulnerable groups. In this way the CBOs have not only engaged in income generation activities but also have helped Panchayats and Covid -19 affected persons.

An eye-opening role played by the State and its apparatus has been provided by the Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch (GNEM) through its assessment which is named as “Taking Stock: Assessing Distribution and Distress in Gurugram during the COVID-¬19 Lockdown” (The Hindu April 27, 2020 ). The finding of the assessment are: (i) Administration has not identified and systematically targeted the ‘hunger hot spots’ for food distribution in Gurugram district. The administration focuses only on mapping and intervening in hotspots (ii) huge gap between the demand and supply of food increased (sevenfold) after the extension of lockdown on April 14 (iii) only 68 per cent demand of dry food and 74 per cent demand of cooked meals was met by the GNEM (iii) distress among workers increased because they have very little or no savings and extension of lockdown up to May 3 had created panic among them because local grocery shops stopped giving ration on credit. Those who were neither having locally registered ration card support from the government nor was any cash support scheme in place suffered a lot (iv) Coupons under Distress Ration Cards had not been received by workers (v) the process for distribution of distress ration coupons remained “unclear and entirely opaque”. The Manch suggested streamlining distress ration coupon distribution public and reopen registration for Rs 1,000 cash relief to daily wagers through a single helpline and a public grievance portal. The contribution made by GNEM is exemplary and to be emulated by others CSOs. This study indicates that hunger hot spot is a serious flaw in the management of disaster. Had the administration or the government taken a decision of lockdown for so many months or days (tentatively) in one go with flexible approach, the problems of exodus of migrant workers would have been the less? It happened in Gurugram which is part of the NCR, one can imagine the happenings in this regard in the far-flung areas in the country.

Another example, I would like to quote of All India Pradhan (president of Gram Panchayat) Sangathan which has its presence in 28 States but most activities are in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Uttarakhand. It has active membership of 10,000 Pradhans. Interestingly, it has constituted Anti Corona Task Force (ACTF) to focus energy of members in managing the Covid-19. There are about 34,000 volunteers of the ACTF across the country. It is interesting to note that ACTF in which among others, members are also Doctors and Nurses who are helping the Panchayats in awareness building and guiding people for taking precautions in warding off themselves from Covid-19. In fact, the Sanghthan has built social capital which has facilitated proper coordination and cooperation among different stakeholders which in turn help in effective handling the Covid-19. One of the best practices of the Sanghthan is that in Muradabad district it has constituted committees in all 584 GPs to oversees the activities relating to Covid-19. Another innovative practice, they adopted is that forming of WhatsApp groups in all the GPs. The membership among these Groups ranges from 50-100 persons according to the President of the Sanghthan. There are also examples of CSOs who have done good work in managing the Covid-19.

But it is also a fact that the examples given above are an exceptions to the rule. Most of the CSOs are engaged in relief and welfare activities and handling the problem of shortage. That stage is almost over. Now, they have to focus on community development to loosen local inertia and from community development to sustainable systems development to remove institutional and policy constraints and from here to mobilizing people through people’s movements to create adequate mobilizing vision among people.

(Author is former officer of Indian Economic Service and President of Karpa Foundation. Email: mpal1661[at]gmail.com).

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