On March 25, 2020, a countrywide lockdown was declared by the Union government to curtail the chain of spread of COVID-19 virus. This resulted in a large-scale movement of informal migrant workers, who had been invisible so far, moving to their home town, braving all odds.
This was the time, when the Civil Society Organisations (CSO), big or small, have come to the rescue of the migrants. Even the NITI Aayog had appealed to the CSOs to spread awareness about the disease and solicited support in providing necessary relief to the affected people.
To study the role of the CSOs during the pandemic, Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) and Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), along with other organisations such as Unnati, Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), Samarthan and Sahbhagi Shikdhan Kendra, conducted a survey, across 26 States and collected data from over 570 CSOs, and have come to the conclusion that CSOs in India have lived up to their ideas and have played a stellar role in providing relief in multiple ways, despite being handicapped by severe fund crunch.
In a document released to the government, Binoy Acharya, Executive Director, Unnati and Ahmedabad Chairperson of Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), stated that the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) in India, true to their values and principles came forward to provide food, water, temporary resting arrangement and first-aid to the migrant workers. In some places, they even provided footwear to the migrants, who were seen walking barefoot for miles on bitumen-topped NH roads, during peak summer.
The study also revealed that the CSOs facilitated their passage across different State borders, so that they could reach their homes safely and reduce exposure to infection. The CSOs developed quarantine homes in the villages where these workers were provided the option of spending the first week or fortnight, after lockdown was imposed, with dignity, care and love, the study revealed.
During the second wave that began from March 2021, the CSOs have played a different role by providing oximeter, facilitating vaccination and hospitalisation of the needy.
As per the survey over 50 lakh families were benefited by the CSOs, across the country. As many as 78% of the respondent CSOs have distributed food; about 91% have provided personal hygiene materials such as masks, sanitisers, sanitary pads, and gloves and PPE kits both to the community as well as frontline workers.
About 73% of the CSOs have provided various kinds of medical supplies, including medicines, oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, and oximeters, and a few of them also arranged plasma and blood donors for the patients. Nearly 40% helped in hospitalisation of patients and arranged for COVID-19 tests.
As per the survey report, the relief work was taken up and still continuing despite over 200 of the respondent CSO stating that their staff contracted the virus and at least 50 of them reporting occurrence of death among staff.
The report also pointed out that the CSOs were hit badly by fund crunch, especially after the amendments to the Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act, 2020, had come into force.
The report concludes urging Niti Aayog, which on behalf of the government had solicited support from the CSOs, needs to take a relook at financial and legal regulatory frameworks that constrict access to resources by the small and medium size organisations.