By Rajiv Shah
Was the Government of India serious when it asked 92,000 civil society organizations (CSOs) in early April to “assist” state governments and district administrations in taking care of food, shelter and other needs of migrant workers, known to have been affected by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’ sudden 21-day lockdown in order to “combat” the spread of Covid-19 virus, announced on March 24?
It wouldn’t seem so, if the a high-profile survey involving CSO leaders across India, carried out by the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), is any guide. Prepared by Prof Ankur Sarin with the help of a team of researchers associated with IIM Ahmedabad — Bianca Shah, Ishu Gupta, Karan Singhal and Shraddha Upadhyay — over 70% of those surveyed felt that government policymakers were “not at all” or “to a very limited extent” open to feedback and suggestions during during the lockdown.
Titled “Civil Society Leader Perceptions and Experiences during Covid-19”, the study revealed that while around 20% of CSO leaders had not had any chance to interact with any government officials till May second week, when the survey was carried out, “Around 80% of the large organisations and around 60% of the small organisations found policymakers ‘not at all receptive’ or ‘receptive to a limited extent’.”
The survey involved leaders of 64 CSOs working in relief work during the lockdown across India.
The letter to NGOs, sent by the Government of India thinktank Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant on April 1, said, CSOs must “coordinate” and “work closely” with district administration and state governments so that measures of care, shelter, food and social distancing go hand in hand and they are fully taken care of in their present location.” The letter claimed, “It is our responsibility that no one goes without shelter and food.” A retired IAS bureaucrat of 1980 batch who headed the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) during the UPA regime, Kant currently heads the empowered group set up by the government to coordinate with private sectors, NGOs and international organisations for response-related activities to check spread of Covid-19. Known as a Narendra Modi man during Modi’s Gujarat chief ministership, Kant was made national secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) after the NDA came to power, and in 2016 joined Niti Aayog, after top-notch economist Arvind Panagariya resigned as Niti Aayog vice-chairman reportedly citing bureaucratic interference, returning to his teaching job in US.
The study said, “While around 60% of CSOs working in urban areas found policymakers unreceptive, more than 75% of CSOs working in rural areas found the same”, regretting, when asked about the most significant challenges faced on the ground, the most common issues highlighted were restrictions on mobility of their staff involved in relief efforts (over 60%) because imposed by the lockdown. About 55% said raising financial resources was another major issue that required addressing.
Around 80% of large organisations and 60% of small organisations found policymakers not at all receptive or receptive to a limited extent
Other issues identified by CSOs included “coordination with the government (over 45%), access to raw materials and grains (over 40%), and difficulties in managing ground operations (around 25%)”, the study said, adding, “The most common activities the leaders report engaging in are mobilising financial resources (above 55%) and engaging in relief efforts independent of government programmes and schemes (around 50%).”
Pointing out that coordinating with the government was “a significant challenge for the CSOs” in order to help migrant workers, the study suggested, this was a major reason why CSOs appeared to set aside working with the authorities, and instead concentrate their work in providing relief, and decided to not to waste time. It insisted, “This is consistent with relief efforts being largely independent of the government.”
Not without reason, the study said, “Out of the CSOs working in rural areas, 48% found ‘very few’ or ‘almost none’ government functionaries accessible while only around 20% of CSOs working exclusively in urban areas found the same.”Further, around 45% felt that “almost none” or “very few” government functionaries were accessible and open to suggestions.
The study also found that more than 20% of leaders felt very few people in the communities were aware of the precautions, 45% felt the relevant directives concerning their work and the communities they work with was not clear,, and over 40% felt that only ‘very few’ or ‘almost none’ of the households in the communities were being able to access entitlements offered by the government authorities