It is easy to be worried and lose hope in times when pandemic is spreading across the country like a fire. We all are aware of the tough conditions faced by migrant labors and rural population in recent times. Rural economy is under lot of stress and this is indeed a time to rebuild it with the new workforce present. Fear of the disease can significantly surge if there is confusion about the disease transmission modes and its symptoms. What keeps all of us going, in such confusing and distressing times are the stories of people supporting ones in distress in their best capacities.
One such story is of Khairkheda Gram Panchayat in Charama block of Kanker district where district administration and civil society organizations have joined hands to find out ways to implement MGNREGA and ensure safety of the workers. Awareness generation and workplace sanitization measures have made work possible and ensure wages to the rural households.
When the first lockdown started, all the work in the villages came to a halt and everyone thought that its going to resume soon. For some days, families were able to sustain but soon a need was felt to generate wages and work to sustain. There were fear, apprehension, confusion and doubts and people were unsure if Gram Panchayat will open works and GPs were unsure if people will turn out or not.
Khairkheda Gram Panchayat is also under High Impact Mega watershed project, which is a joint initiative by state government and Civil Society Organizations. The idea behind this is to improve the implementation process of MGNREGA so that the investments made under MGNREGA can respond adequately to current needs of the poorest. It was important that MGNREGA is brought back to life and implemented with vigor as it is one of the major sources of income for local population. For this PRADAN and Sahbhagi Samaj Sevi Sansthan (SSSS), a local CSO working in the region planned to initiate MGNREGA work in the block with social distancing norms as directed by Ministry of Home Affairs. It was important to build model worksites where protocols are followed and there are enough opportunities for all the labours who want to work.
For this organization planned following initiatives, Chuna and bleaching powder were used for marking boundary for each worker and they were supposed to work inside that periphery only to ensure social distancing. A sanitization machine was installed in the worksites which uses herbal sanitizers to disinfect the workers before they start the work. Also, hand washing with soap in each hour and covering nose with masks at the worksite was made compulsory.
This was appreciated by the MGNREGA functionaries in the field and by the Zila Panchayat CEO and it was decided that it should be replicated at other work sites as well. A video conferencing call was organized in which members from district and block level from Zila Panchayat, MGNREGA cell, PRADAN and SSSS interacted with the workers on the worksite. In this APO, PO, Mates and Gram Rozgar Sahayak also participated from all the blocks. The workers and staff were mainly briefed on the precautions to be taken and importance of disinfecting workplace and hands on a regular interval.
Uses of sanitization machine in workplace were also demonstrated and workers were motivated to seek wage employment and work with precautions. In addition, in villages wall paintings were done for awareness at village level. This virtual meeting was successful and MGNREGA functionaries also interacted with workers. Such measures helped the workers to gain confidence and labourdays generated started gradually increasing.
When the work started on field Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat, Technical Assistant, Bare Foot Technician (BFT) , Rozgar Sahayak and technical support provider , area coordinator and other members of Sahbhagi Samaj Sevi Sansthan (SSSS) were also present. They assessed the sanitization measures taken and appreciated the collective efforts which made this possible.