Sensing the need of the hour during the grave crisis that the pandemic wreaked and stepping in to help villagers access social entitlements, by providing them knowledge as well as assistance in completing procedural formalities, required focus, clarity, dedication and sustained handholding
I ndia has been experiencing the worst scenario in terms of the surge in COVID cases, and the debates on India’s eroded health system have caught global attention. The spread of COVID in rural areas and the concurrent lockdowns have exposed the gaps in the implementation of welfare schemes. Although the finance minister announced a flurry of schemes during the first COVID wave in 2020, the big question is whether it has reached the right person at the right time and whether the figures are accurate.
According to the report, ‘Delivery of social protection entitlements in India: Unpacking exclusion, grievance redress, and the relevance of citizen-assistance mechanisms’ (collated by Dvara Research, Gram Vaani, researchers from IIT Delhi, the University of Montreal, and Tika Vaani), 55 per cent of the total Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT)-related complaints from March to June 2020 were about faulty Aadhaar linkages, spelling errors and blocked accounts, which resulted in unsuccessful crediting to beneficiary accounts. An analysis of the Public Distribution System (PDS) complaints showed that many citizens, who needed government support, were excluded from in-kind transfers under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) because they did not have ration cards. The study used Gram Vaani’s IVR-based database of citizen complaints and used exclusionary factors in welfare delivery. The report also highlights that the access to social entitlements is impeded by last-mile problems such as lack of information on the requirement of documents, procedural complexities that people are not able to navigate on their own, and the introduction of digital-based application procedures that have excluded the poor from the system.
To understand the situation in its working area, PRADAN conducted Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) across all the 228-gram panchayats (GPs) that PRADAN has been working with in Jharkhand. Some of the issues highlighted in the FGDs are problems in enrolment, making corrections or changes in the card, quality and quantity of the ration, no fixed day/date for opening the ration shops, non-receipt of bills, difficulty in accessing PDS by the aged due to the bio-metric system.
As for accessing pensions, the issues ranged from being unable to enrol, irregularity and delay in receiving the pension (the average delay ranges from 2 months to 6 months, sometime even a year), wrong age in the Aadhaar card, inability to access death certificates or disability certificates to avail of the pension.
The FGDs highlighted several challenges such as the lack of information, complicated processes, leakages in the pipeline and lack of supporting documents. The lack of knowledge about grievance redressal procedures is another major obstacle in raising pertinent issues with the relevant authority; this leaves the officials responsible for the services with very little accountability. These hurdles have become manifold in the restricted movement because of the pandemic and the lockdown.
In this context, PRADAN piloted a Welfare Programme, with the support of Azim Premji Foundation, in all the 228 GPs to ensure easy access to jobs under MGNREGS and to avail of social security schemes such as PDS and pension, by establishing Gram Panchayat Help Desks (GPHDs) at the GP level. The GPHD will establish an effective collaboration between the SHG collectives and GPs to provide information about various government schemes and ensure hassle-free and transparent access to schemes by vulnerable families. The GPHD will also address the grievance redressal with the block and district administration.
This article is an attempt to understand the process involved during the piloting, to assess what worked well and to identify the key takeaways of the project.
This engagement of the past six months has resulted in significant movement toward helping people, in terms of enrolment as well as its realization.
Table: Major achievements (October 2020–March 2021)
|Number of people receiving their job cards||34,968|
|Households that have got work under MGNREGS||86,199|
|Households that applied for ration cards||16,953|
|Households that received ration cards||9,608|
|Number of individuals applying for pension||16,691|
|Number of individuals newly enrolled for pension||8,206|
When GPHD members offered to help Sarita Devi to access her pension, her first reaction was, “Jo kaam gaon ke mard log nahin karwa paya wo yeh aurat kaise karegi (How can these women achieve what the men of the village have been unable to do)?” After a lot of persuasion, she agreed to co-operate with them. The GPHD members helped her get all the documents ready and on February 6,2021, Sarita Devi got her sanction letter for widow’s pension.
Collaboration with the GPs: This was one of the most significant factors contributing to results being achieved. Teams have collaborated with GPs for different purposes, including creating awareness, generating demands and addressing grievances. This helped GPs to have the space to act as partners in the whole process and has also created trust. When GPs started supporting various initiatives such as generating large-scale awareness, campaigning for a green card, the kaam mango abhiyan on the eve of MGNREGA Diwas, and organizing Rozgar Diwas and Entitlement Diwas, PRADAN’s efforts intensified and became more productive. The presence of the frontline workers such as Gram Rozgar Sahayak (GRS), Block Program Officer (BPO) during the meetings also facilitated quick redress of the issues. The ownership of the project interventions by the GP helped expedite the enrolment processes.
From the beginning of the project, PRADAN teams tried to make it a collaborative effort of PRIs, CBOs and the government administration. This working relationship between the block administration and the GPs has helped in formally organizing camps at the GP and block level and also addressing the issues raised by CBOs. The collaboration also helped the administration reach out to the target population for various welfare schemes in a systematic way.
Presence of strong field staff: The well-trained and motivated field staff in the block and in every GP has helped to expedite processes smoothly. The acceptance of their presence and role, at the GP level, played a facilitating factor. In the last half year (2020), the PRADAN team has groomed and nurtured 228 GPFs and 22 BCs, who help in conducting different activities smoothly such as awareness creation, information dissemination, application generation and submission, lodging grievances and follow-ups, and field-level training events. On the one hand, the team is helping CBOs and the community and, on the other hand, it is intervening in the GP and the block to minimize hurdles (if any) in rolling out interventions.
Manash Hazam, son of Kishor Das Hazam of Uperbalalong panchayat, Sigid village, West Singhbhum district, was seriously injured in an accident. He was bedridden for three years and had been deprived of his entitlements. Recently, the Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) gave him a wheelchair. He was also helped to apply for disability pension.
Enabling policies at the state level: During this period, the state government decided to include 15 lakh families under the state food security scheme (known as the Green Card Scheme) and 3 lakh individuals under various pension schemes. The generation of applications of eligible beneficiaries and the announcement of policies that include people under various schemes has meant that a significant number of families or individuals would get enrolled under various schemes.
A comprehensive view shows that all the factors mentioned here have helped build on each other, to achieve the desired results of the project. Capacitating the staff with accurate and complete knowledge and offering timely support to clarify doubts has helped smoothen the implementation process. Moreover, this has helped position the project within the community and among the stakeholders. Orienting all the stakeholders, especially the GPs and the block administration, has helped co-ordinate the action in a time-bound manner. Placing GPFs at GPs and GPHDs in a few GPs has established a trusted, authentic source of information for the citizens. Assisting the eligible households/individuals in the documentation process has reduced dependency on middlemen and thereby opportunities for bribery also. GPHD/GPF and NSK/Federation have emerged as effective mechanisms for following up or tracking of the applications. Holding Rozgar Diwas regularly has helped in the making of new job cards, demand generation, etc. Organizing camps at the GP or at the block has emerged as an effective mechanism to address issues in a time-bound manner.
The engagement of the last six months (October 20–March 21) has been enriching and helpful in carving out a way to address the issues of non-accessibility of schemes by the marginalized. The participation of citizens (here SHG members) in identifying and assisting in the documentation process followed by a process at the GP to enrol and track beneficiaries provides the poor a single-window that is trustworthy and easily accessible by the poor and transparent. The experiment being carried out in 228 GPs across Jharkhand also ensures the confidence in all the interventions. This model may now be replicated across the state.