How rights-based experience to fight disasters facilitated CSJ’s Covid-19 response

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Established in 1993, IDEAL – Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a socio-legal organisation fighting for the rights of the marginalised and the vulnerable, principally in the sphere of access to justice has been working directly through its law centres in 4 state, Gujarat Chhattisgarh Jharkhand Madhya Pradesh Directly, and through partner organisations in 8 states.

Over the last 25 years CSJ has evolved as a pioneer in the field of access to justice. The contribution of CSJ in the field of Access to Justice has been at several levels:

  • Demonstrating a community legal resource [lawyers and paralegals] based institutional model.
  • Multi-pronged approach that intertwines multiple strategies, constituencies, approaches and applies Human Rights Based approach to the justice sector Pedagogy in legal training.
  • Institutional structures and systems that facilitate effective functioning for optimum results.
  • A village to policy approach on access to justice

As a result CSJ has responded with a human rights based perspective during disasters like the 2000 earthquake (Gujarat), 2002 Riots (Gujarat), 2012 riots and floods (Assam) and 2015 floods (Gujarat).

Excerpts from CSJ report:

CSJ’S RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN

On 25 March 2020, the Central Government announced a complete lockdown of the country to control the spread of the Novel Corona Virus or COVID-19. This has meant shutdown of all economic activity and transport for the lockdown period. For a country like India, where 94% of the workforce is engaged in the informal economy, with a significant percentage engaged in interstate migrant labor, the lockdown has put millions at risk. Thousands of migrant laborers were stranded across the country with no means of livelihood or a way to return home, many of them had even started walking back to their villages on foot. Many other groups such as daily wage workers, domestic workers, sanitation workers and farmers have also lost their source of livelihood.

CSJ decided to continue its existing multi-pronged action research methodology known as the Entitlement Availability (EA) Circle. The EA Circle Methodology consists of the following components:

  • Identification of issues
  • Raising awareness
  • Monitoring/facilitatiting rights / entitlements
  • Advocating for policy change

IDENTIFICATION AND ASSESSMENT OF ISSUES: WHAT WE DID

CSJ, through its field teams, collaboration with other NGOs and village volunteers, conducted a needs assessment in South Gujarat (Adivasi areas), Amreli and Bhavnagar (coastal belt), North Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Engagement with the community led to identification of problems being faced by people due to the lockdown and challenges in implementation of various entitlements announced by the Government from time to time. These were frequently fed to various stake holders as demands. Issues identified were both generic and area specific. Additionally, a number of emerging vulnerabilities directly caused by the lockdown were also identified.

Details of challenges faced by Adivasi communities and coastal communities can be found at these links. CSJ has also made common state wide recommendations to the Gujarat and Chhattisgarh Governments.

OUR IMPACT

  • Gujarat State Legal Services Authority asked all their DLSAs to implement Disaster Management Scheme after CSJ intervention.
  • Surat Collector has distributed food under the Food Basket Scheme to stranded laborers after CSJ’s intervention. This is an achievement as Food Basket Scheme has rarely been implemented.
  • Government authorities are providing phone numbers of local CSJ Law Centres to stranded laborers in need of food and shelter.
  • CSJ Trainee Lawyers from Jharkhand appointed as relief work committee member.
  • NITI Aayog has reached out to CSJ to contact nodal officer and collaborate with the government.
  • Committee formed to inquire into irregularities in PDS system on complaint by CSJ Trainee Lawyer in Aravali, Gujarat.
  • In some areas, cash under various schemes is being distributed to beneficiaries by post offices and banks. This is something CSJ has included in its various demand letters.

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INCREASING AWARENESS: WHAT WE DID

Crores of rupees have been allocated by the State and Central Governments to provide assistance to communities affected by the COVID Lockdown but vulnerable groups often remain unaware. This is what CSJ did:

  • Simplified and translated the COVID 19 related schemes/policies into local languages (Hindi and Gujarati).
  • Created a mobile data base with the help of CSJ team members and volunteers. Widely circulated the schemes/polices in the form of SMS with the help of the organization named Awwaz.De, a mobile solution.
  • Compiled all relevant schemes/policies and widely circulated the same in various Whatsapp groups.
  • CSJ team is also using creative methods like converting schemes into songs, sharing it through apps like ‘My Talking Tom’ (available here).
  • Built capacities of field volunteers (associated with CSJ and other organisations) to understand and monitor COVID 19 schemes.
  • Circulated phone numbers of relevant officials District Legal Services Authority Member Secretaries, Mamlatdar (Revenue Official), Nodal Officers, helplines etc.
  • Criminal action by police against miscreants spreading hate messages online.

OUR IMPACT

  • 35 SMS messages have been developed and circulated to more than 25000 people across the country. NGOs have started approaching CSJ for assistance.
  • We have trained 700 volunteers (CSJ staff, village volunteers and members of more than 40 NGOs) to use the toolkit prepared by us to monitor entitlements announced post lockdown.
  • We are on track to train 1000 volunteers.
  • CSJ is included in Ajeevika Bureau’s list of organisations providing relief to migrant workers in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand.

MONITORING AND FACILITATING CLAIMS: WHAT WE DID

While State and Central governments have announced a number of policy measures, the response on the ground seems ad hoc and negligent. With the aim of helping civil society organisations monitor State response / track implementation of various schemes, while simultaneously facilitating the entitlements of beneficiaries, CSJ has developed a toolkit.

The toolkit contains a targeted set of action steps, questionnaires and monitoring tools for all relevant Central Schemes and State schemes of Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. CSJ has additionally developed a tracking system for people who directly approach CSJ for any kind of assistance. This sheet is being filled on daily basis and necessary action or collaboration is accordingly decided. CSJ has also reviewed and analysed all schemes/policies announced by State and Central governments and has submitted its recommendations for effective changes.

OUR IMPACT

Facilitation of Travel:

  • Coordinated and arranged travel for more than 15,000 migrants to reach their home town.

Facilitation of Food and Relief:

  • Coordinated and arranged food/ration for more than 3,000 people.
  • 1000 fishermen stuck at sea (Veraval, Mangrol, Jhafrabad and Porbandar) were linked to boat owners and Fisheries Department for provision of food and medicines.
  • Ration and wages provided to a family from Bihar stuck in Mundra, Gujarat on CSJ’s engagement with the Mamlatdar.
  • CSJ Chhattisgarh team members arranged food and shelter 40 people, including 2 pregnant women, stuck in Ranitalab, Chandidongri National Highway, Chhattisgarh.
  • Distributed 500 sanitary napkins and 700 Clothing pieces for women in shelter homes and quarantine centers.
  • Provided food and shelter for 30 labors of Jharkhand, stuck in Bharuch, we were also successful in securing their 30 day’s pay.
  • Along with food and shelter, separate toilets were arranged for 22 female and 40 male workers of MP stuck in Bharuch with the help of DLSA.

Facilitation of Village people:

  • CSJ Law Centers have reached out to more than 9000 villagers in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and have been helping them avail benefits of Central and State schemes.
  • They have been provided ration, safe space to stay, benefits of government schemes like Jan Dhan Yojna, Widow pension, etc. and compensation/ salaries from owners.
  • 10% salary of 3000 laborers of Sintex Company, Rajula was released on CSJ’s intervention (engagement with factory owner and collector).
  • Distributed seed kits for next sowing season and storage containers to 120 farmers before rainy season in Chhattisgarh in collaboration with Astha Samiti, Kawardha.

WAY FORWARD

  • CSJ has developed a tracking system to support more number of migrants in availing their entitlements.
  • Facilitation and follow-up of entitlements of migrant labourers, women, children, dalits, adivasis and other vulnerable group.
  • We are discussing a course on ‘Disaster Management’ with various colleges like GNLU, APU, ILMU.

Organizations that materially supported CSJ’s efforts to help make a change: Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives, Harish and Bina Shah Foundation, Iprobono.

Civil society organizations and its members which worked tirelessly with CSJ: Maati; Astha Samiti, Kawardha; Nanga Baiga; Jan Sangathan; Dhaarti; Makaam; Swiss Aid; Yumetta Foundation; HIDF; Swacch Foundation; AskYuva; Development Support Centre; Dalit Foundation; Econet; Samarth Sanstha; Migrant Solidarity Group; Suport Group LKO COVID19; Migrant Solidarity Group; Yuva Sangathan, Uttrakhand; Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan; Civic Participation Initiative; Advocate Vinda Mahajan and Geeta Kuvalekar; Hidayatullah, National Law University; Institute of Law, Nirma University; NALSAR University of Law; National Centre for Advocacy Study, Pune; All India Central Council of Trade Union; Narmada Bachao Andolan, Pune; National Alliance of People’s Movement; Jan Shikshan Sansthan, Bilaspur; Sitara; Goat Trust; Ambedkar-Lohia Vichar Manch; Ajeevika Bureau; Amaltas; Gram me Vikas Samvad. Society; Civicus

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