Lockdown affected families continue to struggle for relief package as Province 2 retains the relief campaignAs lockdown hit daily wage workers and poor groups await relief, Province 2 government decides to take over relief distribution following reports of irregularities and discriminations during relief distribution.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
It’s been over three weeks since the Province 2 government announced a relief programme for the families affected by the coronavirus lockdown, and all Kano Devi has received so far from her local government is two bars of soap.
“We are poor. We have nothing, not even a farming land. All I have is this house, but we have received nothing substantial from the government so far,” said Kano Devi, a resident of Ratbara in Mahottari Rural Municipality Ward 4, Mahottari.
Bikram Mandal, another resident from the same ward, is also struggling to put food on the table since the lockdown was enforced on March 24.
He has already visited the ward office twice to inquire about the relief materials. On both occasions, he was turned away by the ward representatives.
“I had heard that relief items would be distributed in all villages. When I visited the ward office, I was told nothing had come,” said Bikram, who is physically challenged and has difficulty walking.
Like Bikram, Mina Devi Mandal had also visited her ward office to ask for relief, only to return empty-handed.
On March 29, the provincial government had rolled out a scheme to provide food items to the families of poor and daily wage workers who had no means of earning during lockdown. Weeks since the relief programme was announced, most of the targeted and vulnerable groups remain out of the relief coverage.
“Our financial condition is in ruins. If I do not work, I cannot feed my family,” said Bijnath Das, a villager of Mahottari Rural Municipality Ward 3. “We are the ones in need of relief and we are the ones who are being deprived.”
The relief plan had excluded the families of government employees, pensioners and individuals owning businesses or salaried by non-government organisations. But numerous cases have emerged in recent times where the relief packages are going to the wrong hands.
Instances of irregularities in relief distribution have been reported in all eight districts of the province.
The Province 2 government had announced to provide Rs 2.5 million for a metropolitan city, Rs 2 million for a sub-metropolitan city, Rs 1.5 million for a municipality and Rs 1 million for a rural municipality to support the poorest and the vulnerable people during lockdown. However, several local governments have faced public criticism for failing to even utilise the budget issued by the provincial government. Some local units, meanwhile, have been accused of nepotism while distributing relief in their areas.
Following the reports of irregularities, the provincial government recently intervened in the relief programme.
“There were complaints of irregularities during the relief distributions and selection of beneficiary families,” said Shailendra Prasad Shah, the minister for land management, agriculture and cooperatives. “Some local levels had not spent the money while others said they could not buy foodstuffs for relief because of the shortage caused by the lockdown.”
Minister Shah said the provincial government has decided to buy the foodstuffs through a tender and hand them over to the local governments for distribution.
The local units will have to distribute the relief to the affected families within 24 hours of receiving the delivery from the provincial government.
“The relief distribution work will be overseen by the committees set up by the government,” he added.