Vulnerable, in the time of Covid-19!

Meeting the basic needs of vulnerable communities during Covid-19 (Image Source: SOPPECOM)
Meeting the basic needs of vulnerable communities during Covid-19 (Image Source: SOPPECOM)

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc worldwide and India continues to be in the line of fire. While cases continue to rise, India is also experiencing a crisis of another kind, that of the lockdown affecting the livelihoods of a large number of workers from the informal sector.

Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune has designed a Covid-19 response programme for a period of one year. The plan is to reach out to families from the most vulnerable communities from nine talukas (sub districts) of Pune, Sangli and Kolhapur districts of South Maharashtra.

K J Joy, Senior Fellow with Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune who has been an activist-researcher for more than 30 years speaks to the India Water Portal on the grim situation at the ground level and what can be done on an urgent basis to help the most vulnerable communities.

Ration for vulnerable communities (Image Source: SOPPECOM)

Who are these vulnerable communities? Why would you call them as vulnerable?

Vulnerable communities are mainly people in rural areas, small towns, taluka headquarters who have been left in a fix following the lockdown with no support structures to help them cope with their everyday needs such as food, shelter, water.

These are mostly people from the informal sector, working on daily wages and include local and migrant labourers, construction workers, brick kiln labourers, rickshaw drivers (most of them are daily wage earners), single/widowed/deserted women, balutedar (artisan) communities who are still in caste based occupations and for them “social” distancing has an altogether different meaning and implication for their lives and livelihoods. They also include nomadic tribes like Laman Tandas, chai walas, and sex workers who depend on people to earn their livelihoods and are in trouble at the moment.

How have their lives been affected because of the Covid-19 pandemic?

The lockdown has led to loss of livelihoods for a large number of men and women from the informal sector who depend on daily wages to meet their everyday needs of food and shelter. Left without any form of support and options, many of them have been suffering irreparably. The state of women has been found to be even worse than men. Many of these areas also do not have any NGOs who could support them in times of crisis. Deprived of food, shelter, looked down upon by the society as many of these people belong to the marginalised communities, they continue to suffer due to lack of any alternative sources of income.

What kind of help and support are they receiving? Is it enough and is it reaching them?

Ration distribution in Sangli (Image Source: SOPPECOM)While the free ration scheme has been started by the government to take care of the needs of people below the poverty line, many of the vulnerable people from the informal sector do not have ration cards. This prevents them from accessing the scheme. Some of the political parties in the region have started distributing food, but that’s like a drop in the ocean.

Some of our activist friends told me that very often electoral roll becomes the basis for accessing these. Very often the poor, especially the migrant labour, do not have their names in the electoral roll nor do they have ration cards.

What do you think needs to be done to help them? What do you think are the immediate needs that should be taken care of? What is SOPPECOM doing  to help them at present?

The most immediate solution that needs to be taken care of is how to help them survive in these difficult times. First and foremost they should be provided with good and healthy food that takes care of all their nutritional needs. We along with our activist friends and organisations in the area are providing them with food grains and other kinds of locally available food products. We also are providing them with a basic survival kit that includes products such as soap to maintain basic hygiene.

For example, we along with support from Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiative and Vidrohi Sanskrutik Chalval, Maharashtra have helped around 150 families in Sakharale village and Uran Islampur area of Walva taluka of Sangli, Maharashtra by providing them with kits containing food grains, sugar, salt, tea powder, oil and chutney. The contribution of the Deputy superintendent of police Mr Krishna Pingale and superintendent of police Mr Narayan Deshmukh in distribution of ration and help to families that were affected due to heavy rains the same night was extremely valuable and deserves a great applause.

Others like Deepak Kothawale, Dhanaji Gurav and Professor Sayankar provided their valuable help in the whole initiative. Similar is the case in Atpadi in Sangli district. There, SOPPECOM along with Anandrao Bapu Patil of Shramik Mukti Dal and Manganga Agro- Industries and under the guidance of Dr. Bharat Patankar distributed nearly 500 kits to the needy families including many migrant labourers from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Police support received in Walva taluka (Image Source: SOPPECOM)

In Kagal taluka in Kolhapur district, our friends from organisations such as Bharat Gyan Vidnyan Samithi (BGVS), Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Shramik Mukti Dal (Democratic) and other groups managed to collect around 52,818 Rs and have prepared survival kits that include rice, wheat, tur dal, oil, salt, chutney, soaps, to be given to 73 families, many of whom are migrants from other states and stuck in certain areas without access to food and water and include Lamans and sugarcane cutters.

A number of social activists such as Kalpana Kokani, Tushar Killedar, Sanjay Chingale from BGVS, Kisan Kore, Namdev Bhosale, Ashok Madke, Ramachandra Bharmal, Mahadev Chougule from AIKS, Babu Metkar, Sandesh Jadhav from Shramik Mukti Dal and Shivaji Methe, Haridas Pawar, Sandip Ghatge, Anil Mangle, Vilas Bhosale from Col Tulshidas Killedar Samajik Trust, all helped in ensuring that the survival kits reached the people who needed them the most. In fact our efforts are also to support and supplement such local initiatives. 

We have also started the distribution of survival kits to about 100 families in the adjoining Ajra taluka and our activist friends -- Ashok Jadhav and Padmini Pilankar of Shramik Mukti Dal (Democratic) – are actively involved in this. Dattatrya Patil and Maruti Rokade also helped in distribution of ration in Shirala Taluka, Sangli district. My colleagues – Neha, Sarita, Abraham, Pratima and Kiran – are actively involved in this initiative and are also in constant touch with the activists in the region.

How does SOPPECOM plan to help the marginalised communities in the short and long term?

Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM) plans to reach out to 2500 to 3000 families from the most vulnerable communities from nine talukas (sub districts) of Pune, Sangli and Kolhapur districts of South Maharashtra.

SOPPECOM plans to base the Covid-19 response programme in three phases:

Women carrying ration in Sangli town (Image Source: SOPPECOM)

  • In Phase One the emphasis is on immediate relief and needy families from vulnerable communities will be provided essential food items (dry ration), soaps and medicines. It will cost Rs. 1000-Rs.1100 to make one family kit.
  • In Phase Two, we plan to provide help to the most needy families by supporting school going children from these families to buy essentials like text books, note books and other stationary before the schools reopen in June; help families to meet costs of buying seeds and other inputs and also to partially meet the costs of land preparation so that they can do Kharif sowing in time and also support some supplementary livelihood activities.
  • In Phase Three, we are thinking in terms of long-term engagement. During this phase the effort will be to work with the social activists in the area for awareness building and also improving their capacities to engage with such incidents/events/disasters in the future. The themes/issues that could be taken up include: 1) building more self-reliant and resilient communities and strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and local self-government institutions in small towns, 2) disaster preparedness, 3) safety nets for the most vulnerable communities, 4) data base and information sharing system for quick response actions, and 5) rethinking development – alternatives to the present developmental model (especially in areas like agriculture, livelihoods, water, energy, health, etc.) that are informed by equity, social justice, sustainability and democratisation.

The list of families for Phase One is already ready. The families include: local and migrant labourers, construction workers, brick kiln labourers, rickshaw drivers (most of them are daily wage earners), single/widowed/deserted women, baluthedar (artisan) communities, nomadic tribes including Laman Tandas and so on. The condition of these social sections is particularly precarious in small towns like the taluka headquarters where no safety net exists for them.

SOPPECOM is looking for support in Phase One as well as to take the programme through Phase Two and Phase Three and would like to take this opportunity to appeal for support and contributions.

The details of the appeal are attached below: