From the desk of the Secretary

Dear Colleagues, Comrades, Friends and Well-wishers,

It’s time now to reflect and act amid this unprecedented situation of crisis we are undergoing,

Caught by a complete shock of the lockdown due to the global pandemic of COVID–19, with its sweeping spread, mounting mortality and removing the guts of the economy, SPAN, a non for profit, established and opened more channels of communication with its youth, women and community volunteers and subsequently to different stakeholders e.g. Block Development Officer and Block Programme Manager, local school teachers, community based organisation and self help group leaders, Gram Panchayet members, ASHA health workers, Angan Awadi Workers, community based organisation and many others to start listening with ears on the ground.

First, on announcements of packages by Central and State Governments, it actually examined the ground reality and people could benefit, which is an ongoing work to measure the hunger and poverty.

Secondly SPAN organises information drive to check the informed people and its extent, and how they calibrate their struggle to defeat hunger out of jobless condition.

Thirdly, the story of migrant labourers: 39 migrant workers stranded at Vhabikadai,Perundurai, District: Erode, Tamilnadu from Basanti and Gosaba block of South 24 Parganas; ; 50 labourers from Basanti Block, S. 24Parganas were with family including 30 children in Begur, Bangaluru; 125 families from S24Parganas, Paschim Medinipur and Nadia district with approximately 40 children in Khogaon, District, Gurgaon; In Andhra Pradesh, 10 labourers from Sagardighi Block, Murshidabad were living in Karimnagar, Hydrabad; 12 labourers from Sagardighi and Nabagram block, Murshidabad were in Naharkatiya, Dibrugarh, Assam; and in Dhanbad and Ranchi, Jharkhand, there were 16 labourers from Basanti, South 24 Parganas; In Kerala, 3 groups of people were staggered in different places in Kerala from Sagardighi and Nabagram block, Murshidabad and on inquiring further it was found that 42 labours were stranded in Kutuparamba, Valangichar in Pinaraya district, in Kerala while others were living in a nearby hotel in Panamaram district and in Aralam district. All were in very poor condition without food. Finally, safety, food, water, sanitiser, medicine were provided to all these migrants including the children and this has been possible only due to the excellent and efficient generous help and cooperation of all the State help lines, Chairpersons of State Commission of Protection of Child Rights, and local BDOs.

Finally, children being caged in homes expectedly not in good spirit, SPAN with the help of its youth members started online courses to present some intersting sessions of storytelling workshops, series of topics like local as well as global scenario in Wikipedia etc trough whatsApp and zoom calling portal. After every session, children and youth are given interesting home tasks which they take up as challenge to present in sessions to follow. sharing with one another. In this way a total learning Expedia is groomed by the team to prepare the children and youth for their fight in coming days.

A team of  125 family from S24Parganas, Paschim Medinipur and Nadia district with approximately 40 children were stucked in Khogaon, District; Gurgaon, Hariyana also got food and drinking water support by SCPCR, WB, SCPCR, Hariyana, Gourgaon District administration help line and a local NGO after We registered the case to Chairperson, WBSCPCR within 24 hours. Address: INT Maneswar,Village: Khogaon, Near Priyanka Public School,District: Gurgaon, Hariyana

We were also informed through our network in Murshidabad district that several labourers from mainly, Sagardighi, Nabagram and Lalgola block in Murshidabad district had been stranded in various places of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura, Jharkhand and Assam in very miserable condition from the time of lock down started. 

After receiving the state wise information about the labourers, I first started calling those people who had been stranded in Tamil Nadu. They were total 58 people in different places of Taminadu. In Annanur Street, Chennai where 40 adult male construction labourers were sheltered without food. We listened the situation from our network in South 24Parganas. After that we were informed in Kalapakkam, Chennai where they are 8 adult male construction labourers without food and next we contacted with the labouerers of 10 adult male construction labourers in Ramnagar, Madipakkam in Kanchipuram district.

Then we tried to contact with Tamil Nadu State Help Line but it was switched off and tried to contact Erode help line where they had gave me the Chennai control room number which was 1077. But we were failed to connect in this number from West Bengal as it was interstate help line. Then we forwarded it to them. They also tried several times and were given a help line number from them and they registered their details. After 2 days they got food material and they cried with happiness after gone through almost in the state of starvation.

In Tripura, Khilparal, Udaypur in Gomati district and in Agartala, total 62 laboureres happily informed us that they have regularly got the help of food material and cooked food too after got intervention through Tripura State Help line.

In Kerala, 3 groups of people were sheltered in different places in Kerala from Sagardighi and Nabagram block, Murshidabad. I was connected with in Kutuparamba, Valangichar in Pinaraya district where they were 12 people, connected with 10 people living in a house and managed to get food from a nearby hotel by credit in Panamaram district and in  Aralam district 20 labourers were in very poor condition without food. So, we immidiately called Kerala State help line and they had gave us and another internal district help line number to provide them for food. They did so when I gave them that number for calling. Within 3 hours  the three groups of labourers were  informed us that the district administration registered their appeal and assured them to provide food from next day. Next day they all informed us the news of getting food by district authority and also the district authority collected their bank account details for sending some money for overcome the crisis period.

In Andhra Pradesh, we informed 10 labourers were living in Karimnagar, Hydrabad where they had got support of food, musk, soap and sanitizer. 

Beside food, their main anxiety was about the uncertainty of coming back home.

We also received the list of 12 labourers from Sagardighi and Nabagram block, Murshidabad suffering from not getting food in naharkatiya, Dibrigarh, Assam, were also got food after our intervention with them and Assam Help Line.

In Dhanbad and Ranchi,Jharkhand, there were 16 labourers had been stucked were in stable condition till now as they have managed food and other essential material through their company though we provide them the help line of Jharkhand for emergency situation if raised.

SPAN choose to stand beside the poor and marginal community in this crisiswith Life Sustaining Support particularly with the Tea Garden workers families in Jalpaigury, Migrant labour Families from Murshidabad and South 24 Parganas, Unorganised labourer and Jute Mill workers of the urban slum of Kamarhati, DumDum, Titagarh and Barrackpore, Tribal and dalit families from Bankura and Purulia. Life sustaining supports are as follows –

Support to Migrant Workers

Thousands of Migrant workers, many of them with their families and children, from different districts of West Bengal detained at their workplaces due to lock down caused by COVID 19 Pandemic. They were helplessly suffering without food and shelter. SPAN took effort to stand beside them by identifying them from their home districts and blocks, collecting the contacts and networking with Government departments of their destination states and districts. In this way SPAN could arrange food and shelter support for altogether 214 migrant labourers and 70 children who are detained in the states such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Hariyana. They were from South 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, West Medinipur and Nadia Districts of West Bengal. West Bengal Commission of Protection of Child Rights and their counter parts in different states also took big role in arranging support for these labourers.

Online Education Support to Children in Difficult Circumstances

Online coaching support/classes through Whatsapp Group facilities has been started by SPAN in Kamarhati, Titagarh, Belgachhia, Bankura, Jalpaiguri. Teachers are taking classes through video and audio session. They are giving task to the student, and checking home task regularly. Altogether 83 youth and adolescents were continuing their classes on Basic computer, hospitality management and Spoken English. 66 Adolescents receiving regular coaching support for their secondary and higher secondary classes.

Awareness building on pandemic and related government entitlements

SPAN disseminating information and building awareness on the guideline to be followed to fight against the pandemic as well as the government entitlements for migrant labourers and poor families. Regular awareness programme is going on under the leadership of Youth volunteers and community based organisations in the tea-garden areas of Jalpaguri, remote tribal villages of Bankura and Purulia, villages of Sundarban areas and urban slums of Kolkata and adjacent.

Linking the most poor with Government entitlements

The community volunteers of SPAN regularly looking out for the most marginal families in the community who are not receiving any government support for not having any ration card or other documents. SPAN is preparing list of this families and forwarding it to local Panchayet of Block Development officers asking for at least food support for their life. In the basanti block of South 24 parganas10 such families are referred to BDO and panchayet and 3 among them already got support. Rest of the 7 families will get temporary coupon from panchayet to get food grain support through PDS.

Death Knell for Sunderbans

Yet another blow came amidst lock down. Innumerable migrant workers and toiling people were already facing severe crises. And now, the super-cyclone “Amphan” has created limitless devastation to the agrarian population including share croppers, families of migrant labourers and fishing communities of particularly,  Sunderban regions. Hundreds of villages in several blocks such as Patharpratima, Gosaba, Kakdwip, Namkhana, kultali in South 24 parganas have been devastated. River-dikes have breached in uncountable places, innumerable houses collapsed, miles of tillable lands have got inundated by saline water, rendering them useless for the next few years. 86 people have been reported dead till now as a direct impact of deadly cyclone. The storm has left thousands of families with no money, no food. There is acute shortage of drinking water, baby food and shelter materials.

People in the Sunderbans are devastated by Cyclone Amphan which has destroyed embankments protecting farms, allowing saltwater in. The bulk of river embankments are destroyed by Amphan. The damage caused by the cyclone is immense, but it could have been much worse had it not been for the Sunderbans. Cyclone Amphan was at 270km/hr (approx) but it made landfall at 160km/hr (approx) — you can thank Bonbibi and the mangroves of Sunderbans.

The mangrove forest itself protects the riverine delta region from the ravages of rough seas by breaking up the inflow of strong tides and blocking saline water from seeping into the water table. Not only are the mangrove forests a natural defence against inclement weather like the cyclones that tear through the Bay of Bengal, they are also home to some of India’s most endangered wildlife species, like Royal Bengal tigers, Gangetic dolphins, and Olive Ridley turtles.

However, the destruction caused by Cyclone Amphan was so devastating that the powerful winds have caused water to move from sea to land, affecting irrigation and farming in the region. It the fiercest cyclone of the century for Bengal.

The Sunderbans is the world’s largest mangrove delta and home to more than 4.5 million people. It is spread over two districts - South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas and has 102 islands of which 54 are inhabited.

Several villages on remote islands of the Sunderbans and the coastal belt in West Bengal are now facing an acute drinking water crisis but authorities claim 70% of the water connections have been restored.

The cyclone destroyed dozens of pipelines that used to supply drinking water to the islands surrounded by rivers fed with saline tidal water from the sea. Salt water from these rivers has gushed into the villages through breaches in the embankments filling up the sweet water ponds and hundreds of tube wells still remain submerged in saline water even six days after the calamity.

There is an acute shortage of drinking water. Storm surge have destroyed the sluice gates. Saline water has gushed into the villages inundating the ponds and tube wells.

Most ponds will have to be emptied and treated before they are filled again for the water to become fit for drinking. Treatment of the ponds with lime and potassium permanganate before monsoon is required so that fresh water can fill them up again.

The saline water that has gushed into the villages has also killed all the sweet water fish including rohu, kalta and pangash. Dead fish could be seen floating in ponds Gobindarampur village in Kakdwip two days after the cyclone. Villagers had to collect the dead fishes and dump them.

SPAN mobilised support through crowd funding and it received foreign grant. It has a plan to reach out most devastated areas in Gosaba and Patharpratima Blocks, and the staff members have already identified those vulnerable areas having taken aboard the local people, organisations and a day on basis consultation with the Panchayat and Block administration.  

And SPAN has a clear target of completing its relief work by August 2020.

Post COVID 19 Plan for 2020

We have lost vital time of early 2020; practically the first five months are gone. On the top of that people are hit badly by the COVID 19 lockdown and its impact on the economy so harshly. Added to that West Bengal has just experienced another huge setback by the devastation caused by the super cyclone!

Now the erstwhile development narratives will face a complete turnaround, particularly because it has been the development design, which is alleged to be the culprit. This is in the first place an understanding that comes to our mind based on the analytical framework presented by different eminent personalities in India and across the world.

Hence the thought process generally permeates in our mind and logic is also to bring about a certain 360 degree change based on the issues those are being flagged.

The urgency is the rehabilitation, restoration towards pulling the human resource out of the situation of despair and put them back in normalcy to be able to start fresh, of course a new normal. But this has to happen with a phased intervention woven with empowering tools and methodologies.

Evidently the program emphasis would be more in four districts e.g. South 24 Parganas, Puruliya, Jalpaiguri and kolkata.

It is by far clear to everyone’s mind that employment, education and ecology are the three major areas which are being subject to great changes due to covid-19 pandemic.

Ecology being the cause and effect need a long term treatment, while education and employment are the two areas will be in the receiving end. And so these two aspects require a short and medium term treatment.

Immediate after the lockdown is over we may visit the schools (govt aided) and study of labour profile. Track down to understand if there are any students who are not appearing in the classroom, visit them and take note of the situation responsible.

Similarly the labour profile will give us an understanding of men and women in the informal and migrant labour, what they are doing now and their experience etc.

In both these tracking we must keep the gender aspect of vulnerability in mind.

Hence in these two areas there has to be an investigative action followed by remedial action; while the ecological and environmental issues will be dealt with a perspective of long term understanding building and action thereof. (This includes the economic and political issues and will be connected to the development design, which actually is responsible for this pandemic etc. taking a clue from the Covid-19).

I assume we have ,

Name of the District Name of the Block No of Villages/TGs
South 24 Parganas Basanti 5
  Gosaba 5
Puruliya Jhalda 1 5
  Bagmundi 5
Jalpaiguri Matelli 10
  Nagrakata 3
North 24 Parganas Promodnagar 7
  Kamarhati 7
  Titagarh 2
  Barakpore 2
Kolkata Belgachhia 1
  Ultadanga, Basanti 1

51 villages/wards/TGs at the moment. Besides we have

Name of the District Name of the Block No of villages
Bankura Hirbandh 5
  Khatra 1 5
Birbhum Md. Bazar 5
  Rajnagar 5
Murshidabad Sagardighi 5
  Nabagram 5

30 more villages where of course we don’t have any staff to coordinate.

Hence in all we have 53+30 villages/TGs/slums to work with.

To act with focus and intensity, now we will reach out to each of this place where our people are located and may be facing all kind of challenges e.g. health, well being, no access to their entitlements, food, education, protection from violence, loss of job or no income, debt, lost resources, savings, shelter so on and so forth.

This could be dealt as follows

Criteria to reach to a particular family, when it faces one or multiple challenges and giving those a weight age:

  Issues Weight
1 Health illness (any member) 2
2 Poor Health (especially children) 3
3 Child out of school 3
4 Child poor in learning outcome 2
5 Poor nutrition (especially children) 3
6 Child labour 4*
7 Child trafficked 4*
8 Poor income of the family/sudden loss of income source/sudden loss of asset (amongst unorganised sector, migrant and tea garden workers and especially unemployed youth) 4**
9 Disability (especially children) 4*
10 Girl children with either poor health, poor nutrition, poor learning outcome, out of school and disabled (with one or more vulnerabilities 4*

In the urban setting family may not be the basis of applying the criteria, and in such situation it may be the person-vulnerability in terms of health, education, protection, employment/labour to ameliorate the dominating issues e.g. malnutrition, disability, girl children especially in the minority communities, out of school children, poor learning outcome and drop out, child labour, child marriage, unemployment, livelihood at the expense of health, environment, hygiene etc, unskilled/semi-skilled labour and more so when actually intervened at the person’s level.

  Issues Weight
1 Health illness (any member) 2
2 Poor Health (especially children) 3
3 Child out of school 3
4 Child poor in learning outcome 2
5 Poor nutrition (especially children) 3
6 Child labour 4*
7 Child trafficked 4*
8 Poor income of the family/sudden loss of income source/sudden loss of asset (amongst unorganised sector, migrant and tea garden workers and especially unemployed youth) 4**
9 Disability (especially children) 4*
10 Girl children with either poor health, poor nutrition, poor learning outcome, out of school and disabled (with one or more vulnerabilities 4*

Combination of any of these issues in any families when compute 10 at least then the family will be treated as most vulnerable. But *issues like these, if present, even just one of those will qualify the family to be treated vulnerable, and **issue should be accompanied with either of the 1/3/4/6/7/8

5 identified families will compose 1 unit. There should be 1 male and 1 female member between the age group 19-25 (1st priority), if not available then 26-28 (2nd priority), still not available then may be 1 person is chosen in the 1st or 2nd priority groups. Again these two persons should preferably be literate, who could lead the group to a safer position from the brink of the disaster/impoverished condition. A social sector lending up to Rs 5000 for 3 months will be extended to this unit i.e. Rs 1000 to each family will be allocated. This amount will just be allocated and based on the practically assessed needs of the members who will be financed by way of giving away in kinds. But all these actions have to be decided along with the members of the unit. These decisions could only be arrived at after having separate meetings and seeking opinions from the members of different age groups also, while a final meeting would follow to accept these by heart.

Thus a target of 500 units across all the project areas is set to be intervened as most vulnerable rolled out for intervention through social sector lending e.g. nutrition, health, education and transport. But this support will only to pull out the member out of gasping condition where no service is reaching or may be acutely ostensible.

Hence 53 places will have 530 units. Each place will have 10 units in an average. So the allocation for each place would be 10unitsx5membersxRs.1000x53 places=Rs.26, 50,000.00 for the first 3 months. For each unit the two Unit Managers will keep the detail age group wise need assessed, procurement of material or linking with the service-whichever is more effective,  lending types, description of utilisation and the level of satisfaction and gradual improvement. Every week the Unit Managers will meet the Cluster Resource Manager along with other members of the unit to report the progress and monitoring of the progress will take place with the participation of all the members.

This effort will be repeated till a level is reached which may have been decided by the unit and its member’s unequivocal agreement.

So an amount maximum Rs 1000 will be given to a family by way of providing material equal to the value. And the family will return the amount + satisfaction value of 1% per month i.e. 3% for 3 months on Rs 1000x3%=1030 in 3 months i.e. per month Rs 343.33.

Each Cluster Resource Manager will be responsible for 3 places and in each place there will be 10 units. So she will cover 30 units. Her responsibility would be to hold meeting in each week in all the 3 places and 10 units in each place to receive the report of the progress and check with other members through their informed participation. Evidently she will be giving away the materials as per the need and also collect money every month end and put the same into the bank. She, DM, TM & STM will also align her intervention with other services e.g. the ICDS, School, Asha worker, VLCPC and GP member. This will include the quantity and quality of those services in terms of nutrition, pre-primary education, enrolment and dropout in primary education, middle school and secondary education, tracking children’s safe and secure attending school and family & community environment. Also measure all these services against the prevailing Act/Schemes/Plan of Action. Flag those gaps which are significant and measurable for the concerned department and institutions.

Besides she will be initiating process of an enabling condition for the people (as per the new normal plan of action) who were disproportionately placed amid the mainstream development process. (Please refer the new normal plan).

That’s it for the time being. We will now be focusing on the agility and courage with care and caution to make this plan a reality.

Thanking you all for your presence and continuous support.

Warm regards,

Prabir Basu

Secretary, SPAN