As the 21-day nationwide shutdown comes into effect, charitable and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have stepped up efforts to tackle the challenges posed by the Covid-19 situation and the consequent socio-economic impact on the weaker sections of society.

Aided by donors, investors, and communities at large, many NGOs are working to tackle the crisis and help out vulnerable sections of the population, especially vendors, daily-wage earners, gig-economy workers and small businesses.

The Indian arm of Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger-relief organisation, plans to distribute packaged meals to vulnerable groups in India during the lockdown. Around 1.2 million packaged meals are to be distributed to daily wage workers, construction workers, contract labourers and street vendors across Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

Dola Mohapatra, Executive Director, Rise Against Hunger India (RAHI), says the initial plan is for three months. “This is a specific Covid-19-related response and is based on the assumption that economic activities will have been resumed by June, with people suffering temporary setbacks and able to resume their work to earn livelihoods,” Mohapatra told BusinessLine , adding the that organisation would continue to support its ongoing partners as usual.

Adding to distress

Noting the 21-day lockdown, which is essential to save the country from rapid outbreak of the virus, “would further aggravate the economic distress of many families whose livelihoods depend on their daily/weekly income,” the official said “many of these families will fall through the cracks for multiple reasons” and despite the best interventions of the government's safety-net mechanisms for this strata.

Citing an example of Devamma from Hebbal, Bengaluru, with six children, the official said she used to work as a housemaid, but has been laid off. "When we visited a few days ago, she had just enough ingredients to cook for the day. Similarly, Premkumar who used to provide motor-driving lessons is without any income, since there are no customers.” While distributing meals to some families in Hebbal, the RAHI team learnt most do not have BPL or ration cards.

“Our aim is to reach out to such people. We will coordinate with few partners and work closely with government authorities with due permissions and approvals,” he added.

RAHI has already been providing meals to economically disadvantaged and vulnerable groups including orphanages, slum dwellers, disabled and the elderly, and partners with 190 local NGOs. For Covid-19 response, the NGO is to use internal funds.

Assocham recommendations

Among the many recommendations to allay the impact of Covid-19, industry body Assocham has recommended cash support of ₹3,000-5,000 per month (for 1-3 months, depending upon the extent of community spread) for the most stressed sections (like street vendors, construction workers, auto drivers and temporary workers) be considered.

Pointing out that Covid-19 has brought forth vulnerability to the fear of illness, the economic consequences of which are yet to be felt in totality, Assocham's 15-pronged strategy recommendation, which has been submitted to the Prime Minister's office, states the money can be defined to select end-use: towards food and healthcare, and can be done electronically through the Jan Dhan accounts and use of RuPay Cards.

In Karnataka, free food is being made available for daily-wage workers at Indira Canteens in Bengaluru. There are 191 Indira Canteens across 198 wards in Bengaluru. Indira Canteens were introduced in the 2017-18 budget by the then Siddaramaiah-led state government and aimed at giving subsidised meals to the urban poor in every ward.

Omidyar’s rapid response window

Philanthropic agency Omidyar Network India has announced a rapid response window to fund proposals that support the lower 60 percent of India’s income distribution “in managing and mitigating the challenges that come with Covid-19”.

The philanthropic-investment firm has committed ₹7.5 crore ($1 million) to the initiative, apart from the call for proposals that strengthen containment, detection and treatment, support crisis management capabilities, and enhance resilience and recovery in the wake of Covid-19. Aprpoved proposals will be funded in the range of ₹5 lakh to ₹2 crore.

The organisation says it recognises the slowdown will most impact vulnerable sections of the population and large swathes of India’s ‘next half billion’ (NHB). Proposals that seek to improve the economic resilience of NHB workers and small businesses impacted due to Covid-19; community outreach and mobilisation campaigns; data, apps and other technological solutions; actionable research that enhances the ability of the government and public in dealing with the crisis as well as collaborative efforts by foundations, philanthropies, impact investing and venture capital firms -- will be considered.