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Govt apathy, funds crisis? 36% NGOs drop Covid relief, 54% plan to: IIM-A survey

By Rajiv Shah
A high-profile Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) survey of civil society organizations (CSOs) has complained that government indifference despite the “felt need” to continue with the relief work to the poorer sections society amidst Covid-19 crisis was a major reason why more than 36% of CSOs were forced to stop doing the work, while another 54% said they had plans to stop it in a month’s time.
Carried out by a group of researchers led by IIM-A faculty Prof Ankur Sarin, the survey report, "Voluntary Sector Response to Food Scarcity during Covid-19" cites “lack of resources” as the biggest challenge driving these organisations and individuals to stop their ongoing efforts, underlining, “This emerges against a backdrop of rising numbers of people relying on food relief activities of these CSOs. Almost 70% of respondents claimed that the number of people they have been serving increased over time.”
The surveyed CSOs work in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi (NCR), Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal. Among those involved in preparing the report included Prof Reetika Khera, well-known development economist. The survey period was between May 1 and 14.
The report says, on probing further into the reasons for suspending operations, only around 3% reported that they “did not feel” the need to continue, while 84% cited lack of funds as one of the reasons for their decision to stop their operations. It notes, “Most of them have relied on individual/public contributions and their own funds. However, they are unable to continue to shell out similar amounts.”
The report quotes a Samajik Shaikshanik Vikas Kendra (Bihar) activist as stating there were complications in “getting the permission” to mobilise funds, forcing the CSO to represented to Niti Aayog. The CSO plea says the foreign funded NGOs (i.e. Foreign Contribution Regulation Act-registered) should be “permitted" for hassle free movement to mobilise funds as well as supporting the people in this pandemic Covid-19.
According to the report, “Funding has been received by less than 4% of respondents while 8% have received raw materials free of cost from the government. Around 4% of CSOs have managed to obtain some supplies from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and other government-affiliated bodies.” It comments, “Given that a majority of them have reported that the lack of funds/supplies is their biggest bottleneck, these figures are low.”
IIM-A survey says, funding has been received by less than 4% of CSOs; 8% have received raw materials free of cost from government
The report says, the dominant form of support that the government has lent to CSOs has been the arrangement of travel passes during curfew periods (around 44%). Other forms included transportation (11%), distribution (21%) and identification of beneficiaries (20%). Around 11% of respondents that stopped distribution reported that they had been stopped by the police and other authorities due to curfew orders.
The report, which is based on a survey of 113 CSOs and their representatives, says that a major reason why CSOs began with their initiative to help the poorer sections – 76% of whom were daily wage workers – was because of the “issues of access, availability and quality facing public distribution system (PDS) and other government efforts.”
The report says, “Organisations and individuals reported that the PDS provisions proved to be insufficient. Almost half the respondents reported that only some people have had access to their ration entitlements. About 20% stated that there have been large shortages of essentials and instances where supplies came in too late. More than 14% of respondents also emphasised on the poor quality of commodities available at ration shops.”
Comments the report, “With the implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013, there was a need for all states to formulate their own eligibility criteria for granting ration cards and undertake identification exercises. However, till date, these eligibility criteria are not transparent and remain unclear.” In fact, “outdated data” led to “large exclusion errors” whereby people who are eligible and in need of subsidised food grains are excluded – which economists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera estimate to be around 100 million.
“While the government has proposed to implement its One Nation One Ration Card across the country by March 2021, states may not be prepared to implement this immediately without a digitised beneficiary database and provisions for identity verification”, the report asserts, adding, “Stranded migrant workers can take advantage of this scheme only if their applications for ration cards are processed (and approved) promptly and urgently.”
The report quotes Udayan Care, an NGO as stating: “Huge issue to get government ration. We got rice from Food Corporation of India (FCI) and the quality was inhuman for consumption.”, while another NGO, Nirantar Trust said,"The PDS distributors were putting wrong quantities on the ration cards of tribal families and on complaining, SDM also didn't sound very promising of taking any action against them." 
The report says, while 56% of the surveyed respondents had prior history of working with the households that they were serving, 65% followed a door-to-door delivery system to get provisions to people in need, indicating they had last-mile access to people and households at a much finer level, which may be difficult for other government bodies to obtain. Around 24% of respondents followed a distribution model where people gather at a central location.

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