26 February, 2021

A will to serve

Foot soldiers from the Trusts’ Transform Rural India initiative help rural families connect to government schemes and avail their benefits

The remote village beyond the backwaters of River Narmada
The remote village beyond the backwaters of River Narmada
The remote village beyond the backwaters of River Narmada
The remote village beyond the backwaters of River Narmada

Once upon a time Kuvarsingh Awasya used to work in the fields. The 64-year-old lives with his wife, Bhyali Devi in Bhitada village, Sondwa block, in Alirajpur district, Madhya Pradesh. Their two sons migrated to Gujarat with their families for a chance to eke out a better livelihood.

The old couple were left behind to fend for themselves in the remote village beyond the backwaters of River Narmada. The region is part of the area that was submerged during the construction of the Sarovar Dam.

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Kuvarsingh was reduced to selling his cattle and other livestock in distress sales in order to make ends meet. It was at this critical time that he came in contact with Dum Singh Dodwa, a sarathi (community mobiliser) with the Transforming Rural India Foundation (TRIF). A transformational civil society initiative developed by the Tata Trusts, TRIF works to bring equal opportunities to India’s poorest.

Proud to serve

The Trusts believe that a national transformation can be achieved only if the country’s rural spaces are transformed. To that end, TRIF has been actively engaged in initiatives in Sondwa block from late 2017. The aim is to bring in multi-dimensional change by activating community leadership under thematic sectors such as health, education and governance.

When the pandemic broke out and the nation went into lockdown, TRIF initiated economic restoration through the Trusts’ Mission Gaurav programme. The aim was to reach out and support returning migrants and vulnerable families, to restore their livelihoods, and to help them gain access to eligible entitlements.

It was this aim that brought Dum Singh to the tiny villages on the bank of Narmada’s backwaters. He was seeking the most excluded and vulnerable families in this remote area who would need support. It was not an easy task. To reach Bhitada, Dum Singh had to climb across a mountain track and then take an approximately 3-hour boat ride.

A helping hand

Dum Singh spent a lot of time mobilising the community and generating awareness of the intervention and eligible entitlements. It was then that Dum Singh realised that Kuvarsingh was eligible to claim entitlements under the prime minister’s Kishan Samman Nidhi Yojna. Bhyali Devi was eligible for an old age pension.

As he probed further, Dum Singh learnt that Kuvarsingh had already submitted all the necessary documents to access benefits under the Kishan Samman Nidhi Yojna back in November 2019. However, he wasn’t aware whether he had received the entitlements.

Dum Singh took Kuvarsingh to the nearest kiosk centre across the river to check the status of his application. He discovered that the entitlement was delivered in three instalments Rs2,000 each. However, the money was not deposited in his bank account.

Upon enquiring with the bank, Dum Singh learnt that Kuvarsingh’s account was defunct. A KYC (know your customer) form had to be filed to make it functional again. A verification form was brought from pthe Panchayat and Dum Singh helped Kuvarsingh fill it in. He also helped Kuvarsingh collate the necessary documents to submit to the bank.

Kuvarsingh’s account was successfully reactivated, and soon, all three instalments of the Kishan Samman Nidhi Yojana scheme were reflected in his passbook.

Going above and beyond

Dum Singh didn’t stop there. The sarathi also facilitated the documentation and submission of Bhyali Devi’s application for old age pension. He helped her to create a bank account in the nearest branch, which is a prerequisite for payment. Then, Dum Singh followed up the application. Within a short period, Bhyali Devi was getting her monthly pension of Rs600 in her new account.

Kuvarsingh and Bhyali Devi are overwhelmed with the timely help they got from the sarathi. Situated far from the town, access is always a concern, whether it is for their daily needs or obtaining their entitlement benefits. A good deal of follow up is required to ensure satisfactory closure on applications made to the line departments. The elderly couple are deeply grateful to Dum Singh and TRIF for going above and beyond the call of duty.

The sarathis have shown keenness, will, and an eye for detail to reach out to the most vulnerable and socially excluded needy families through the Mission Gaurav programme. The results of this intervention has had ripple effects on other peer sarathis. It has re-energised the entire block team engaged in the intervention to work even harder. They are eager to cover every remote household under the ambit of this unique programme.