A few weeks back, as the crisis gripped India, he again escaped to Nepal, wary that things were quickly spiraling out of control and wanting to avoid the border and quarantine complications he faced the first time back. The back and forth and uncertainty has worn him down.
“I am lucky to be alive. Two of my Nepali friends in Gujarat, a few hours from where I worked, died of Covid-19. It could have very well been me. At least I managed to escape and am alive and safe,” he says.
But this recognition does not take away the financial stress back home as his family is already struggling to make ends meet and as a sole bread winner, his job prospects are dim. His is not an isolated story, of families in dire need of temporary safety nets to fall back on till the situation allows them to get back on their feet.
Now more than ever, social protection programs are needed to provide a lifeline to the poorest. With the second wave, local governments are once again overwhelmed with flooded hospitals, returnee migrant management, and shortages of all kinds. As pointed out in the 2019-20 PMEP report, in the context of the pandemic, the PMEP needs to be adapted to address local needs to help fight the crisis including building of temporary structures for isolation, contact tracing, sanitation drives, social awareness programs under Covid-19 safety protocols.
The second wave and the quickly unfolding crisis further underscores the need to leverage this program for such activities. Given the current situation, the immediate need of the hour is also to cast the safety net wider by providing traditional emergency cash- or food-based assistance to help the poorest cope with food insecurity so families who have lost their livelihoods can ride out the crisis.
Over the last three years PMEP has had a checkered reputation because of allegations of wasteful spending, unproductive work and improper targeting of the unemployed.
“We are best placed to give critical feedback on implementation challenges,” says one EC. “It would be helpful if they came to monitor our work from the center, to understand the ground realities. As ECs, for example, we are still under-resourced as we do not have allowances for transportation to travel to the wards that we are in charge of, some of which are quite distant from where we are based. Sometimes, it is simple challenges and small kinks, if sorted, could go a long way.”