‘Hands tied’: Why non-profits aren’t part of Bihar’s COVID-19 response

Organisations say state govt wants them to hand over relief material

By C K Manoj
Published: Thursday 23 April 2020
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Non-profits, playing a considerable part in India’s resistance to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, have found themselves secluded in Bihar.

The Nitish Kumar government, non-profit organisations said, asked them to hand relief material over to it rather than distribute them directly. 

This, the non-profits claimed, has prompted them to withdraw support citing “different priorities and target groups”.

“But we have own target groups — we work for child rights, women rights and emergency response. What purpose will it serve whey they are not distributed among our target groups?” said Saurabh Kumar, regional manager, Action Aid Association.

Other non-profits reiterated a similar sentiment.

“We are unable to help our target groups. We have been strictly told by the local authorities to send our relief to the government centre,” said an official from Save the Children.

The NITI Aayog’s chief Amitabh Kant issued a letter on March 30 highlighting the role of all Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

At this juncture, I request you to coordinate your efforts and work closely with the district administrations and the 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. It is our responsibility that no one goes without shelter and food.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Secretary GVV Sarma, through his letter dated March 31, asked vice chairperson, State Disaster Management Authority, to direct the district disaster management authorities to hold coordination meetings with credible non-profits and other CSOs to enhance community cooperation.

“You are requested to inform whether the district level coordination meetings with NGOs/CSOs were held at the district level and NGO coordination cell has been activated. You are also requested to inform whether NGOs/CSOs have been given duties based on their strength and capabilities, ensuring that there is no duplication of work,” Sarma wrote.

But non-profits find the state’s directive troubling.

“Our hands are tied. Even if we want to help the poor, the government tells us to hand over our relief stuff,” Ritwiz Kumar, state coordinator, Right To Food Campaign, said.

He added that the government promised ration to all, but at least 60 per cent people did not have ration cards.

Some are also apprehensive of people’s anger. “They will ask us where we were when they needed us,” Asangathit Kshetra Kamgar Sangathan official Vijay Kant Sinha said.

Some non-profits believe the government ordered the move to ensure social distancing and law and order. “The government perhaps fears a law-and-order problem if everyone was allowed to distribute relief material at this time,” said a non-profit official.

Some believe there might be a political reason behind it.

“Elections are just six months away and the government wants to win the support of the masses,” another official said.

 The state government, on the other hand, said they did not need the support of non-profits. “The government is doing everything at its own level. Why should we seek NGOs’ support when we have our own system?” said Lakshmeshwar Rai, state’s disaster management minister.

“We are doing everything at our own level. This is the policy of the government,” Bihar’s disaster management department’s additional secretary, M Ramachandrudu, told Down to Earth.


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