COVID-19: How the most vulnerable were identified in 2 Odisha districts

A non-profit working on food security issues, took up a pilot project to identify such people needing urgent governmental and non-governmental support and care during the lockdown

By Priya Ranjan Sahu
Published: Monday 22 June 2020
An old woman in Madhaympur village under Belpada block of Balangir being provided with a nutrition kit. Photo: Priya Ranjan Sahu

Dasmi Parabhue is a 62-year-old unmarried tribal woman who lives alone in Madhyapur village under Balangir district’s Belpada block.

Unable to do wage labour due to her disability, the landless old woman’s only means of survival is her monthly disability pension of Rs 500 and subsidised 5 kilogram of rice per person under the public distribution system (PDS).

Similar is the condition of Lalman Batia, 80, and his wife Padmini Lohar, 72, of Barkte village under the Komna block of Nuapada. The old couple does not have any children, neither do they have any relatives around to support them.

They are landless and do not have even homestead land. Like Parabhue, they also sustain on the 10 kg rice under PDS and Rs 1,000 pension that both get every month.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown normal lives completely out of gear with lockdown, shutdown and social distancing and affected all sections of society. However, the worst sufferers have been marginalised people, who are left with no income and food.

The problem is starkly visible in the rural areas of Balangir and Nuapada, two migration-prone districts Odisha having a sizable number of poor, daily wage labourers and beggars, who are vulnerable to hunger, starvation and health risks. 

After lockdown, the gram panchayats started the state government-sponsored feeding programme for the marginalised people but it is difficult to make the benefits available to all because of lack of proper identification of such people.

For Parabhue, Lalman and many others on the verge of destitution in both the districts, managing a square meal became a difficult task.

It became worse after the lockdown. “My only meal of the day came from the anganwadi during lockdown. But it stopped coming after the lockdown was lifted,” said Parabhue.

Rupayaan, a non-profit working on food security issues, took up a pilot project to identify such people on the margins needing urgent governmental and non-governmental support and care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It focused on Belpada and Komna blocks, from where thousands migrate to Telengana and Andhra Pradesh to work in brick kilns leaving behind the old, disabled and children.  

Following a detailed survey, Rupayaan shortlisted a total of 3,250 such extremely vulnerable persons from 1,445 families in 85 villages of 15 gram panchayats under both the blocks.

“Identification was not difficult as Rupayaan has local volunteers who have an understanding of right-based approach and are well-versed with the government’s food and nutrition schemes and services,” said Rajkishore Mishra, convenor of Rupayaan.

“Besides, they have good rapport with frontline workers and sarpanches of their respective gram panchayats as they have been working in tandem with them on food security issues for a long time,” he added.

The shortlist provides an insight into the composition and profile of the vulnerable sections of society. Of the 3,250 people, 44.2 per cent belong to Scheduled Tribes, 18 per cent to Scheduled Castes, 34.4 per cent to Other Backward Classes and one per cent to general castes.

Besides, 60 per cent of them are female, 50 per cent children and 6 per cent disabled. At least, 31.7 per cent are aged, disabled, widow and single woman pension holders.

Out of total 1,445 families, only 17.2 per cent have an Antyodaya Anna Yojana card issued to the “poorest of the poor” that fetches 35 kg of highly subsidised rice per month.

However, 89.2 per cent families have entitlement cards including Priority Household (PHH) and State Food Security Scheme (SFSS) ration cards. Over 11 percent of the household do not have entitlement cards.

“Rupayaan’s identification of the vulnerable people has made our work easier to reach out to them during the fight against COVID-19,” said Lingaraj Behera, panchayat executive officer of Beheramunda gram panchayat under Belpada.

Besides helping the village administration with information about the poorest of the poor, Rupayaan also helped them out with nutrition and health kits, with support from Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiative.     

The state government provided advance rice of three months to ration card holders and the central government announced to provide extra 5 kg rice or wheat per person and 1 kg dal per household. Also the state government distributed pension amounts of three months to pension beneficiaries.

The main objective of materials provided with the nutrition and hygiene kits was to ensure food security and support households to fight hunger along with COVID-19.

Hence Rupayaan included daily need items such as oil, sugar, potatoes, onions, puffed rice, semolina, spices, turmeric and nutrient items like dal, soya chunks and jaggery in the nutrition kit, which also contained soaps and masks.

The organisation also provided over 600 hygiene kits comprising masks, hand sanitisers, gloves, soap and water bottles to frontline workers.

These included sarpanches and other Panchayati Raj institution members, panchayat executive officers, anganwadi workers, auxiliary nurse midwives, accredited social health activists  and gram rozgar sevaks so that they needed and used them while performing their daily duties to fight COVID-19.

Rekha Satnami, anganwadi worker of Kandetara-Nehru Nagar anganwadi centre, said that when the volunteers of Rupayaan came to her village to find out the most vulnerable households during COVID-19, community members did not take much time to identify them under certain parameters.

These included disability, lack of societal support, old age, lack of fitness for gainful employment, landlessness and deprivation.

“The nutrition kit provided to such people will sustain them from one month to two months depending on the size of the household,” she said.    

Sarpanches too have sought the help of the volunteers of the organisation in providing help to the people. According to Pitabasa Nayak, sarpanch of Kandhenjhola gram panchayat under Belpada, the food security support provided by the government may meet the bare minimum requirements of the people living in extreme poverty but not nutritional support.

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