Usharmukti – Rejuvenating the life of poor amid the COVID-19 crisis

. May 4, 2020

Date: 4 May, 2020
Though the current pandemic is urban centric, the one who has faced the maximum brunt are the poor, the wage earners and other vulnerable people from urban and rural India. The prolonged lockdown has left the poor with no means of livelihood. Those who were dependent on wage are now jobless. In Bankura district of West Bengal, the lockdown had started showing early effect as majority of the population is dependent on subsistence farming, forest produce and daily wages.

Soon after the lockdown was declared, the poor people, especially those dependent on wages, are landless started facing food scarcity. As an immediate relief, the PRADAN team in Khatra mobilized the SHG collectives, PRI and extended support mechanism to the administration in providing relief material to the vulnerable families. With PDS operational, the major food crises have been averted. However, with the extended lockdown, the distress is rising. With no liquid cash in hand, people are unable to buy agriculture inputs for the upcoming kharif season. With no cash in hand, people have started selling whatever stock they have including the grains and livestock to meet the emergency requirements.

The opening of works under MGNREGS has brought a sigh of relief to the people facing a major liquidity crisis. Soon after the circulars were released, the PRADAN team in Khatra started sensitizing the PRI, block and Gram panchayat level functionaries to open the spill-over schemes under the Usharmukti programme of the Government of West Bengal. The works that focused on asset creation such as development of water harvesting structures and land development were immediately opened. The current work plan has the potential to provide jobs to all the job card holders in the five blocks of Bankura district (Ranibandh, Khatra, Raipur, Sarenga, Simlapal) with at least one month of work through MGNREGS. “We have already started the works and with good strategy and proper planning, we could generate work for 4000 vulnerable households within 10 days of the opening of the works in MGNREGS,” says Soumen Pyne (Junior Program officer from, Ranibandh Development Block) shares,

The PRADAN team in Khatra has done a detailed analysis of the status of MGNREGS in the five blocks of Bankura district. Based on the report, detailed planning and scheme selection of the works under the Usharmukti project have been finalized. The focus is to initiate maximum number of works to generate sufficient employment along with identification of suitable schemes to create sustainable assets as well. The PRADAN team is also supporting the block administration in providing the technical support to initiate the work as per COVID19 guidelines issued by the Government. As the work have started, a protocol is developed to abide by COVID-19 guidelines such as ensuring social distancing, provision of soap, water, sanitizers and masks.

A total of 425 Usharmukti schemes have been opened across 160 villages in five blocks of Bankura. These works have ensured 12 days of work for 14957 persons from vulnerable households till the end of April 2020.

Swarnalata Hembram from Shyamadi village of Ranibandh Block who is also one of the job card holders expresses, “We needed work but because of this lockdown we were confined to our homes. I was about to sell my goats to meet the cash requirement. But we are happy that the government has opened the MGNREGS works. This is a great relief. If our payments are released on time, we can invest the money to buy seeds and fertilizers to grow paddy in our field. Otherwise, it would be difficult to survive next year.

Team: PRADAN Khatra, West Bengal

Santosh Kumar Mahatha and Arup Pal

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