Enabling access to MGNREGA entitlements during COVID-19 through Community Radios

New Delhi: Community radio has the potential to bring the social transformation in grassroot level and can show the development centred model to rest of the country. It bridges gap between the govt. and people and empowers as well as capacitates the audiences under its transmission zone through informative radio programmes. It does so by facilitating free flow of information by encouraging freedom of speech, feedback and enhances dialogue within the communities concerned in order to promote better participation by their populations.

The virtual shutdown of all economic activities due to Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a massive loss of livelihoods. Millions of workforces in the unorganised sector has been one of the worst affected sections of society. Further, a significant part of this workforce has reverse migrated from cities to rural areas. In order to address this migrant crisis, Young India,a Odisha based development organisation in partnership with United States Department of State, implemented an awareness campaign “Nua Sakalara Katha” to create awareness on Covid-19 and to facilitate employment opportunities for migrant labours through different govt. schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is one of the largest work guarantee programmes in the world. The primary objective of the scheme is to guarantee 100 days of employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work-related unskilled manual work. Unlike earlier employment guarantee schemes, the act aims at addressing the causes of chronic poverty through a rights-based framework. At least one-third of beneficiaries have to be women under the act and wages must be paid according to the statutory minimum wages specified for agricultural labourers in the state under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. The most important part of MGNREGA’s design is its legally-backed guarantee for any rural adult to get work within 15 days of demanding it, failing which an ‘unemployment allowance’ must be given.
The Intervention by Community Radios
In state of Odisha, 13 community radios from the areas like coastal areas, hilly areas, tribal areas etc. have come together to create awareness and to tackle misinformation about covid-19. The partnership of community radios leaded by Young India has created a multi-level network that reaches the remotest villages which enables illiterate daily wage workers to use Community Radios to access information on their entitlements and wages in Odisha. However, in order to utilise the true potential of this act, there was a need to address the underlying challenges of MGNREGA like lack of information, inadequate financing, delay in payment of wages, ineffective role of PRI etc.
During the initial phase of the campaign, 752 radio listeners’ group members got trained to facilitate employment opportunities through govt. schemes like MGNREGA. The listeners’ groups play very important role in community radio broadcasting through providing their inputs and feedbacks on the content, learnings, practices and impact of radio programmes in regular intervals.
Number of Radio Programme and jingles produced and broadcast through 13 community radio stations of Odisha who they reach around 4 million population in the state. Different outreach activities like narrowcasting sessions, community events, and demonstration activities organised to reach the target audience.
A lot of efforts by the Community Radio members to create awareness among the migrant workers as well as community people about MGNREGA and its benefits gave positive response. A continuous learning process has been developed where people from reach communities are asking for works under MGNREGA. As a result, 2623 no’s of people applied for the work and the process still continuing. More than 2000 new job cards have issued to new applicants in 58 adopted villages of Odisha.
Gram panchayats need to be provided with adequate resources, powers, and responsibilities to sanction works, provide work on demand, and authorise wage payments to ensure there are no delays in payments. MGNREGA should be converged with other schemes of the government. For example, Green India initiative and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Niagamananda Parida, Sarpanch of Kurujanga Gram Panchayat told.
State government must ensure that public work gets started in every village. Workers turning up at the worksite should be provided work immediately, without much delay. Local bodies must proactively reach out to returned and quarantined migrant workers and help those in need to get job cards. Adequate facilities such as soap, water, and masks for workers must be provided free of cost, at the worksite. At this time, there is a need to speed up the payments to MGNREGA workers. Preferably, cash needs to reach the workers easily and efficiently.
My family depends upon daily wages to survive. I was struggling to get works during the lockdown. But with help of community radio, I got road construct works under MGNREGA in my own village. It saved us from hardship time, Narendra Kandi, a villager of Kurujanga villager in Puri district told.
I had no earning options left with me during the lockdown and shutdown of all markets. I was living with lots of difficulties as my daughter got married and my son left the state as a migrant worker. But now I am working in different construction works within gram panchayat which provides earning to survive, Kanhei Bhoi, Kud Gunerapur village in Sambalpur district told.
People were unaware about the benefits of MGNREGA and very a smaller number of actual job applicants usually submitted for works before. But now we have received a huge number of applications under MGNREGA during the pandemic. Its good to see people got awareness and asking for works under the scheme, Dr. Bebita Manjari Nayak, BDO, Astaranga Block told.
Different community assets like roads, community ponds, drainage etc have been constructed by the migrant labours during the campaign.
Community Radios in Odisha dealing with Migrant Crisis during COVID-19 Pandemic
With nearly 8.53 lakhs migrant workers were returned to Odisha after lockdown. Maximum numbers of people have returned from Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh Maharashtra and Kerala. The months long lockdown devastated the livelihood and incomes of the poor. Due to economic hardship the migrants faced difficulties in managing their family expenditures. In this hard time Community Radios of Odisha came forward to deal the migrant income crisis.
Community Radios in Odisha are bridging the gap between govt. and beneficiaries to raise the demand for works under MGNREGA in the pandemic. This helps the migrant labours to get employment during the hardship time of lockdown. During the Nua Sakalara Katha community radio campaign 13 community radios of Odisha started continuous broadcasting of radio programmes to create awareness among the community people on MGNREGA. Apart from that the community radio team members were conducted narrowcasting sessions and outreach activities in field levels. Radio listeners’ group members took active participation and lead the campaign. District administrations, Block administrations, PRI members, Community leaders and Experts were involved during the campaign. With the involvement of PRI members community radio team members facilitated MGNREGA works in their localities.
“Our aim was to support our villagers through providing works to them under the MGNREGA, as they are jobless due to the pandemic. So, we provided them work of cashew plantation which will also help in soil conservation and afforestation” Sarapanch of Kaimatia Gram Panchayat in Jajpur district said.
“Being informed on benefits of MGNREGA through community radio, we applied for work and started working on construction of pond” Said Karuna Sabar of Katalkaitha village in, Gajapati district.
A lot of efforts by the Community Radio members to create awareness among the migrant workers as well as community people about MGNREGA and its benefits gave positive response. A continuous learning process has been developed where people from reach communities are asking for works under MGNREGA. As a result, 2623 no’s families applied for the work and the process still continuing. More than 2500 new job cards have issued to new applicants in 58 adopted villages of Odisha.
“Now we are hopeful that we can at least survive with help of works get under MGNREGA and it will help us to meet family expenditures”, Abali Pradhan a resident of Udayakani village in Puri district said.
“I got to know about the benefits of MGNREGA from Radio Namaskar and applied for work under the act. Now I got works in my own village and it helped me to meet my expenditures.” Says Alok Kandi, a migrant worker from Bhanapur village in Puri district who returned from Surat during lockdown.
The migrant labours of Abhaypur village in Jajpur district have taken up cashew plantation drive during the pandemic. After reverse migration due to lockdown, the labours had lost their hopes with no work left with their hands. Now, 55 applicants got work of cashew plantation in their village and earned wages to maintain their family.
Daily labours in Umuri village of Koraput district have prepared water conservation points against the slopes of the hillocks to preserve water and prevent soil erosion. Similarly, in Sukriguda village, MGNREGA workers have prepared a proper drainage system.
Community radio has always played an important role in reaching out to communities with information relevant to their respective local contexts, pertaining to a variety of issues including building livelihoods, advancing justice, empowering women and strengthening education etc. Going the peoples’ medium of communication has also been very beneficial in times of emergency response, especially in rural areas that otherwise have limited or no access to mainstream and new forms of media. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic too, community radio came forward to help communities with information on how to contain the spread of the virus and access the various services and entitlements. This initiative “Nua Sakala’ra Katha’ has reached about 4 million rural population through 13 community radios of Odisha with exemplary impact. We hope to extend this initiative & explore such experience through other Community Radios of the country. Says N. A. Shah Ansari Renowned Community Media Specialist, Chairperson of Namaskar Community Media Network & Former National President of Community Radio Association.
These initiatives, undertaken under the campaign “Nua Sakalara Katha” are aimed to create awareness on various issues & its possible local possibilities on COVID-19 among vulnerable and migrant labour communities in Odisha. The campaign is implemented through 13 community radio stations of Odisha reaching about 4 million rural population with active support from the US Consulate General Hyderabad and Young India, a Odisha based development organisation.

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