Civil Society Contributions upto Lockdown-3


By Rao VBJ Chelikani

While in a theocratic society or in a monarchy, the God or the king may be responsible, but in a democratic society all the citizens are collectively responsible for the destiny of their society. Particularly, during a natural or man-made calamity or an emergency, it is the whole society, spearheaded by its active civil society forces that usually jump into action with personal sacrifices.


The Corona virus or the SARS-NCOV-2, is different from other calamities like floods, famine or fire, where a vast majority of people or the government would take care of the victims for the relief and rehabilitation works in a given area. But, in the case of this virus, everybody is concerned and affected and made to realise the value of his or her life as well as of the neighbour, and they are obliged to participate to work imperatively, together. Thus, the whole society is concerned, rich and poor put together and they have to act together. There is no need to preach about universal human solidarity, since it imposes itself. The governments, instead of trying to do everything by itself, should help every citizen to involve himself either for himself or for others. These emergencies should serve as lessons for the civics of better human relations, since revolutions have always failed to accomplish their initial objectives. We can build a better society, more humane and more civilised when more people participate in the governance of the society by voluntarily working for a good cause in the society for personal satisfaction with personal sacrifices. Service to human being is a divine cause for some. They should be respected and facilitated especially by those who do the same service, but as a return for the remuneration they receive in terms of a salary, or those who do it as a return for public recognition by those who voted them into power. It is, however to be admitted that till the Lockdown 3 by the governments, the Administration has shown exceptional levels of efficiency, which normally the bureaucracy is not considered to be capable of.


Hence, ever since the Prime minister has declared the biggest ever Lockdown-1 of the country on 23rd March, individuals and voluntary associations have spontaneously mobilised themselves to act in this very perplex Corona virus emergency. Some foundations like Akshaya Patra Foundation which have been already providing a complete food at a low cost have multiplied their production while collaborating with the officials. Thanks to the Social Media, many small associations have formed WhatsApp groups to strengthen their ranks, for collection of funds and materials, as well as for the distribution in the nearby areas. The government machinery is also in the field, such as the sanitation and medical staff and the officers of various municipal and state departments, and particularly the Police with their own preventive measures. Most often they work with the collaboration of the NGOs. In general, the political authorities such as the Representatives and ministers are also very much present during both the official and non-official activities and they are well-reported by the established media.


From the civil society, many NGOs, senior citizens organisations and the resident welfare associations, many professional bodies and many individual philanthropists have started acting as an expression of community support. Where and when the Curfew rules are not followed, the residents are contacting the local Police and thereby preventing the spread of the virus. In many municipalities and in the metropolitan cities, it is the civil society organisations that seek the collaboration of the municipal authorities to carry on their mission. However, they are very much encouraged to follow social discipline by the current Chief Minister who became the best teacher of social discipline in his own inimitable style.


Private sector companies, their staff associations as well as professional associations have also become active. It is to be noted that the political parties have not been playing any specific role, probably because they think that they can serve people only when they come to Power and only through power.


Who are in the field?

The Kerala chief minister Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan has as early as 18th April explained that in his state, it is the state administration, socio-political and voluntary organisations and the general public at large that have jointly faced the menace so successfully. A professor from Brown University in the USA noted in the Hindu of 18th April, in the lead article that he observed that there is a constant demand-side pressure of a highly mobilised civil society in Kerala. The government has activated them instead of showing itself as active. It called on a two lakh volunteers to go door to door. The ‘kutumbasree’ movement of women not only acted for contact-tracing, but also delivered till that day three lakh meals a day through kutumbasree community kitchens. Direct benefits have been distributed to migrant workers, the elderly, and the differently-abled in cooperation with the civil society representatives at the level of panchayats, districts and municipalities. In Rajasthan also more than 50,000 civil Defence volunteers are working at the grassroots for distribution of PPEs, masks, and sanitisers for migrant wokers.


Volunteers:

However, it is the civil society organisations like the Red-Cross, the Resident Welfare Associations, the senior citizens organisatons, activists of RTI, Human Rights, consumer associations and the individuals like the doctors, scientists, nurses, cooks, drivers, police, domestic helpers who are directly participating in the governance in a time of crisis like this. They have an army of previously-committed volunteers in the framework of NGOs, unions, councils and chambers. In addition, there are many spontaneous volunteers who jump into the ring without fearing for their life and those who bring out their meager resources to share with others.


During this health crisis, many state governments and their departments in the country are recruiting thousands of volunteers directly or through NGOs. In the context of COVID19, the Union Government has created a database of those healthcare professionals and volunteers. They are at present 1.25 crore: See portal covidwarriors.gov.in. Within the framework of the National Disaster Management Authority for the fight against covid-19, more than1.27 lakh individuals and 5,300 organisations, so far as on 14th April have registered themselves. Further, there are about 30,000 effective national level NGOs, added to lakhs of local, district and state level civil society organisations and professional chambers or councils. Many of them have already mobilised their own resources, and they can further mobilise as many funds as necessary locally and spend them locally without administrative costs.


The T.S.Government can also maintain such a master portal of COVID warriors for the entire state, and recruit them through their departments. There are nearly six crore women members of Self-Help groups both in rural and urban areas, who could be given interest free-loans for income-generating activities, like selling fruits and vegetables, groceries, dairying, agriculture, and for educating their children.


Media:

But, the professional media, both print and electronic is unable to take into account the very specific role of a third sector i.e. the civil society, apart from the political authorities and the officials. Unless the activists in the field invite a political leader or a high official to be in the forefront of an event, the story with a photo will not appear.


Our Representatives:

It is in this context, we find it surprising that the GHMC’s full municipal council which consists of 150 corporators and nearly half of that number of ex-officio members who participate in the Council elections have not so far been very much present in the field. 150 Ward Committees, each with 20 civil society activists are also not visible, even though one of their functions is, precisely to plan and act during the emergencies like the present one in their own areas.


Since 23rd March, the Chief Minister has been appealing to the Representatives, including the corporators and the ward committee members to be active in the field i.e.in their own areas. Since then, we have glimpses of them, now and then, in the photographs taken by the media who accompany them, while they are giving away free food packets with their own hands. Some are photographed when they are receiving cheques for CM CARES fund from the philanthropists and from the private sector firms. We do acknowledge, however that there are some elected representatives who are exceptionally concerned and involved in this emergency situation. Nevertheless, we should agree that the situation is much better than in a neighbouring state, where most of the political leaders are trying to artistically mix their fight against their political opponents (campaign for the suspended local body elections and their fight against the Corona virus).


Whom else do we find mostly in the field? It is the central, state and municipal staff, with health, medical and sanitation personnel, and the police in the fore-front. Some health personnel and some police have already lost their lives in service. There is no doubt that all the government officers have been working very intensively with great devotion during this health emergency, which most probably may not be over in the next few months to come.


The RWAs:

The city is composed of nearly 50,000 vertical apartment-buildings and around 5,000 area or colony individual house-holds. Some of them, under the guidance of the United Federation of the Resident Welfare Associations (UFERWAS) in TS are arranging Rythu Bazaars in various localities with the help of the Department of Agriculture. Young farmers from the rural areas are contacting the RWAs offering to deliver directly packs of fruits or vegetables that they have grown in plenty in bulk orders to the urban communities. Firstly, this direct offer helps the RWAs to fulfill one of their objectives of establishing rural urban links, so fondly proposed by our former president Abdul Kalam. Secondly, they are trying to group the demand or the shopping needs of all their residents so as to arrive at a bulk order in order to make it cooperative shopping, so as to reap the benefits of a cooperative society.


Since thousands of people are living in gated communities and in apartment- building complexes, the managements are taking very stringent measures against the visitors. All those who enter are subjected to thermal screening by some RWAs who could afford them. The common areas are cordoned off and the residents are to collect the parcels, milk, newspapers, etc. at the gate. My Home Jewel in Miyapur, Balaji Residency in Tarnaka and Bloomfield Ecstasy in Tellapur stopped allowing domestic help, cooks, drivers, staff members, etc. from coming outside. MyGate App used by many RWAs, like Aparna Lake Breeze in Chandanagar, Balaji Residency in Tarnaka have made online payment mandatory and made in-house arrangement with the help of some of their residents, so that the residents need not go out.


Masks:

Some RWAs are also providing masks not only to the residents within but also to others like the surrounding migrant workers. Some businessmen join them and engage mahila mandali members to stitch them for a small remuneration. It is creating part-time employment also. In D.D. colony in cooperation with Ramesh Narasa Raju of Siri Jute Creations, an NGO in Rajendranagar, and in Miyapur, Chandanagar, Gachibowli, Nampalli, Dilsukhnagar, they have been busily distributing masks. Often, they invite the local corporator or the mayor or the local MLAs or MLC to ask them to hand over to the beneficiaries.


Migrant workers:

Serving food ‘anna dan’ is very much cherished in the Indian tradition. Hence, the NGOs and the RWAs find no difficulty to find donors or even to collect funds and materials for the purpose. Across the nation, by first week of April, already over 30,00 civil defence volunteers have been carrying out relief activities, while about 11,500 NGOs have been organising food camps, and 3,900 NGOs have set up temporary shelter homes for the stranded persons. In the state of Telangana, nearly one lakh workers out of the total 2,71, 742 identified migrant workers by GHMC are in the 280 camps set up by GHMC. But NGOs estimate that there might be nearly 7 lakhs total migrant workers from Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and UP., and two-thirds of them are in and around the city of Hyderabad. Members of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, Human Rights Forum, Arogya Jeevan and others have been serving those who are outside govt. attention. All associations, trusts, firms, RWAs have been invariably cooking food or preparing packets of food materials and groceries, fruits and vegetables to be distributed, day after day to the labour in their neighbourhood. This is happening in almost all the municipalities in the state.


Food and its Distribution:

The Akshaya Patra Foundation which has been serving meals even before Lockdown, has increased its supply to 1.5 lakh meals per day through their kiosks, which are also Annapurna canteens, feeding anybody, including the security guards and the street vendors. Though hastily on 19th April, 20 the Mayor of GHMC made a statement discouraging private distribution of food or food materials by the local associations and philanthropists in their neighbourhood since they are not able to maintain social distance, and insisted that such perishable and hot food to be deposited at a few GHMC office counters, from where the officials would take them to those who are in need. Luckily, this has not been respected, and the expression of neighbourhood solidarity continued abated. Men, women and children in many areas are joining to prepare packets of vegetables and other grocery items or food packets for distribution. There are occasions of cooking more food on the spot, when they fall short of it. Such d hoc groups formed for this purpose have started inviting the officials, corporators, MLAs,or even ministers to appear on the occasion and hand them over to the beneficiaries. The minister for MA&UD, on the other hand has been expressing his appreciation for this kind of work on Twitter. 


Though GHMC proposed to upgrade its food canteens to serve two lakh people as their target, there still remains four times more number to be attended timely by the civil society groups. On the same occasion, many RWAs have been providing breakfast to the sanitation staff who appears before them very early in the morning cleaning the streets and evacuating the garbage. Some NGOs are invited by GHMC to provide food packets to those who are kept in temporary shelter homes.


Thanks to the Swacch Bharat programme, the municipal staff all across the country has become more conscious of their role, as they had been put at the centre of the campaign. Many RWAs have taken the habit of annually presenting to them clothes, gloves, shoes, etc. This practice is, in fact continued, as most of the RWAs have started, at least once in a week to either feed them or supply food packets. Neanmoins, it is to be admitted that in this unplanned or uncoordinated distribution is resulting, now and then in wastage of food and in littering of bags, packages, etc.


Free Medical Services:

Forum for Peoples’ Health, Sri Ramanuja Seva Trust, Elder Spring with Toll-free tel no., Elders Club International, Jana vignyana Vedika are providing medicines, medical devices, masks, ventilators, etc. Occasionally.


Psychological Counseling:

Serve organisation from H.C.U., Roshni Help Line, Rachakonda Security Council, Asha Psychologists, some NGOs specialised in attending to the migrant workers, Dalits, Aadivasis and girijans are also providing counseling to those who are traumatised as they are very suddenly confined without movement. Serve Needy voluntary Organisation has been assisting in funerals and incineration. Sahayam Centre for Excellence of Osmania University with a team of 15 psychologists does tele-counselling. The Association of Health Psychologists in collaboration with UNICEF, Action Aid, Dr. Reddy’s Foundation and AP Sofia Service Forum started help lines.


Senior Citizens and the Disabled:

RWAs are able to cater to the particular needs of the aged persons in their apartments and in their colonies. The co-residents take care of them, spontaneously, and this exchange of attention and affection makes an RWA an urban community of caring and sharing. Social Media groups are created and several Help lines are established, of course in cooperation with the concerned department, by the NGOs like Help Age India or the Tata Trust and by the United Federation of the RWAs, UFERWAS.


More detailed and specific contributions of the senior citizens associations and the resident welfare associations can be seen in the current issues of AISCCON News and Tarnaka Times.

……as on 13th May, 2020

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