Food Kits, #BreakTheChain: How Kerala Made Life Easy During Corona
MNREGA - Kerala said they will ensure immediate release of cash for work done, for the coming few days.
In an attempt to ensure basic essentials to all during this lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kerala has begun distribution of over 87 lakh food kits for ration card holders across the state, irrespective of whether they are below or above the poverty line.
Supplyco, part of the Food and Civil Supplies department, has tailor-made these food item kits, that comprise of 17 items such as atta, chilli powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, pulses - green gram, urad dal, toor dal, sunflower and coconut oil, bathing soap, washing soap and everything essential for a family to survive.
The Kerala government had announced a Rs 20,000 crore special package to cover health, loan assistance, welfare pensions and support people under the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, free food grains, subsidised meals, tax relief and arrear clearance.
The Quint spoke to Dr Divya S Iyer, Mission Director, Mahatma Gandhi NREGA - Kerala, who is also holding additional charges in the Food and Supplies Department during this COVID-19 crisis. She explained how they have identified specific vulnerable areas where there is a dire need of supplies and over 35 lakh food kits have already been distributed.
Good News for a Cash-Strapped Society
The doctor-turned IAS officer took charge in 2018 and she clarified that the state had ‘absolutely no new dues pending as of now.’
“All the wages till last financial year, as in 31 March, have been disbursed. So that comes close to 400 crores that was pending when it comes to the wage component of our scheme. The amount goes as direct benefit transfer to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries,” Dr Iyer told The Quint.
Mahatma Gandhi NREGA - Kerala has also received funding from the centre, the official clarified.
“Government of India has already sanctioned the money to ensure there is no delay in wage disbursal once people start working. As soon as people finish their work, there is a fund transfer order that needs to be sent to GOI and on receipt of that, the wages will be disbursed. The act says it will be done in 15 days but beyond that, there won’t be any delay, for the time being,” Dr Iyer assured.
This is a significant move as it is a pro-active way to ensure there will be immediate release of cash for work done, for the coming days.
When questioned if Mahatma Gandhi NREGA can be used to help migrant workers, provided they have the necessary residence documents, she said that this was a policy decision to be taken by the central government. However, if a person has settled in Kerala and has the concerned residence certificates the wages will be provided, as it is within the ambit of the act.
Pre-Monsoon Activities in Full Swing
The monsoon season is set to kick in coming June and the team has been working on a number of standard pre- monsoon cleaning activities. One, desilting of canals, renovation of traditional water bodies, cleaning up of ponds and construction of embankments using coir geotextiles for reinforcement. Two, every year they set a target for the World Environment Day. Say, last year one crore saplings were planted. Similarly, this year too the work in nurseries is going on in full swing. Three, rural sanitation works like compost pits, soak pits.
“If not for the pre-monsoon activities and the sanitation, we might be in for more trouble because we know the kind of fever and other health-related problems that usually come up during monsoon. We want to ensure we avoid that altogether,” she said.
Mahatma Gandhi NREGA - Kerala has attributed the ease with which they have been able to function to the concerted efforts by the collectors, police and the local panchayats.
However, no activities have yet started in the red zones, as in hotspots.
With the involvement of the revenue and disaster management department, shelters have also been identified in rural and urban areas for both scenarios: In case a COVID crisis comes up so there are first line treatment centres ready; and in case of a flood like situation.
The #BreakTheChain campaign has been initiated to raise awareness among the public on the importance of hand washing and personal hygiene in the time of the pandemic. The government has installed hand washing outlets in many public areas including bus stops, government offices and hospitals.
“When we went to tribal areas in Trivandrum, we thought we would have to explain all about coronavirus but they were all extremely aware and were already very careful. Many were very curious about why hand washing had to be done in this particular way. They even jokingly asked - ‘Do we have to do this every day at home, before cooking and after cooking? Then half our time will be gone in just washing hands.’ A few grandmothers were very keenly observing the demonstration and telling me they will go teach their grandkids,” Dr Iyer said.
“It is this kind of knowledge sharing that is going to make this campaign successful,” she added.
The Mahatma Gandhi NREGA - Kerala team has also urged its beneficiaries to turn into corona warriors by being the ‘eyes and ears of the government.’
“If people are given the responsibility, then people realise, ‘Oh yes I can contribute something for the public and the government’ and everyone loves that.”Divya S Iyer, Mission Director, Mahatma Gandhi NREGA - Kerala
Experience Is the Best Teacher
It was only in 2018 that disastrous floods ravaged the state. The government’s handling of such disasters has helped them work quicker and more efficiently in the face of a pandemic.
“Post floods, we could provide employment to over 10 lakh people and bring in the much needed economic stability, especially to the rural regions. NREGS was very instrumental in livelihood regeneration.”Divya S Iyer, Mission Director, Mahatma Gandhi NREGA - Kerala
Dr Iyer explained how compliance of the common man is crucial for the successful implementation of any scheme.
She urged everyone to stay indoors and stay safe.
“It is not only about - I, me, myself - but us. That is the biggest lesson this pandemic has taught us. It is not just my health that is important, but my neighbours’ too.”Divya S Iyer, Mission Director, Mahatma Gandhi NREGA - Kerala
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