Some thoughts on meeting the challenges posed by the COVID 19 health concerns to the most vulnerable due to the restrictions and how civil society organisations can join hands with public administrative mechanisms to ensure livelihood opportunities and relief at the same time.
The role of civil society organisations in policy shaping and implementation in the unprecedented crisis brought about by the COVID 19 situation and some exploration of possible measures to solve the hunger & livelihood crisis that the thousands of migrants workers are facing in India is the need of the hour.
The migrant workers and wage labourers in India are among the most vulnerable sections of the society and the health risks and lock down measures have imposed so many restrictions on them that the right to earn a decent living seems really a distant reality.
Looking at the current situation let us see what is not working in the system:
Large number of people are unable to have 2 meals a day and going out now poses severe health hazards that our current health infrastructure cannot support.
Government has enough food grains – the issue is of distribution. This disruption is caused by:
- Broken supply chains
- Restrictions imposed by policy (National Food Security Act which states that distribution has to be limited ration card holders on which Government is insisting).
These exclusions are preventing many of the truly vulnerable from access to much-needed subsistence and basic survival requirements. The NFS Act ( National Food Security Act) limits food distribution to only ration card holders. This raises the question: what about the poorest of the poor who cannot engage with the local government in the present scenario to make Ration Cards? The nomadic Tribal Communities, Urban Poor, Migrant Workers stuck away from their places of residence and geographies are being excluded by the administration.
Similar cases of exclusions in livelihoods and healthcare is also seen.
What needs to be changed:
- Universalizaton of these basic services
- Consultative processes between the Government and the Rights based Civil Society organisations
Study reveals that there are extremely effective rights based legislation in India which provide a framework for public service delivery in any crisis situation which are not being optimally used. Building a network of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) across the country who are providing relief in every district, block, village and urban unit seems a feasible way forward. Mapping the strength and activities of these organisations will give us a clear idea of the on-ground volunteer workforce and human capital we have at our disposal to effectively mobilize – this can be mapped to the existing public sector human capital and trained workforce who can monitor and evaluate the Government relief efforts and on-the-ground challenges currently faced nationwide. These decentralized units could be set up to reestablish the broken supply chains and regulate food and material procurement adequately.
The workers displaced and helpless also need to be involved in the entire distribution mechanism thereby ensuring livelihood opportunities. Further, all workers involved in restoring the relief operations are to be considered as front-line workers and all state governments have to assure social security and insurance protection like Delhi Government just announced for health care workers.
My take on relieving some of the distress that we see on the ground in India where the only way forward seems to be a trade off between health and food security. Delving deeper into the socio-economic fabric and current reality we can, however see a clear way forward not only to synergistically solve the food security and right to livelihood issue but also operationalize the public distribution system better to meet the present crisis by collaborative efforts Your comments solicited.