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  • Writer's picturemaithilee Sagara

Improving Food Security of Sanitation Workers and their Families

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

- Prerana Somani & Rashmita Patel

March 2023

Sanitation work is one of the most unsafe professions in the country due to lack of access to protective gear, irregular income, and social security. Sanitation work continues to be a caste-based profession and hence workers face many barriers to pursue alternative livelihoods.

To ensure safety and dignity of sanitation workers, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) introduced the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. A decade since the Act was passed, sanitation workers continue to face stigma and are employed without adequate safety measures.

The Urban Management Centre (UMC) has been working with the government and the community to ensure safety and dignity for sanitation workers since 2017. UMC supported the Housing & Urban Development Department (H&UDD), Government of Odisha, to identify Core Sanitation Workers (CSWs) across all 115 cities of the state with the aim of providing them with social, health and financial security under the Garima scheme. The scheme has helped empower nearly 12,000 CSWs, all working in handling of faecal waste, by establishing a robust system to enumerate them, recognising them as “skilled labour” and enhancing their technical capabilities and enabling linkages with existing social and financial security schemes.

Improving Access to Ration Cards through Garima Scheme

CSWs lack access to nutritious food which is fundamental to improving quality of life. Ration Cards provide access to food support under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the State Food Security Scheme (SFSS), by lowering the expense burden towards basic food items for informal and low-income workers. Though eligible for Ration Cards, CSWs are unable to access them due to lack of awareness and complicated paperwork.

As an extension of the work already done under the Garima scheme, UMC supported the H&UDD, for a targeted intervention to ensure that eligible CSWs access Ration Cards. A proof of concept was developed in Berhampur (Ganjam district), Odisha, which saw a convergence of departments at the state and local government levels to link eligible low-income CSWs with Ration Cards.

The Principal Secretaries of H&UDD and the Food Supply & Consumer Welfare Department (FS&CWD) issued a letter to the District Collectors insisting them to ensure that eligible and marginalised CSWs and their families were brought under the SFSS following the NFSA guidelines.

Rabindra Kumar Nahak, UMC’s City Coordinator as part of the Garima Technical Support Unit (TSU) in Berhampur oriented the Swacch Supervisors and Community Organisers on collection of relevant documents and application forms. Once this was completed, the Swachh Supervisors went door-to-door for the convenience of the CSWs and checked their interest in accessing Ration Cards. CSWs were reluctant to go through the process again because of their previous failed attempts at issuing Ration Cards. Some had been rejected earlier and others had given up midway due to the complicated processes and paperwork. The Swachh Supervisors gradually built a rapport with the CSWs, and walked them through the process, ensuring full support at each step. They helped the CSWs fill the application form, collected the copies of the essential documents and signatures from CSWs.

Garima City Coordinator conducting orientation for the Swacch Supervisors and Community Organisers

Each district is allocated a specific quota for issuance of Ration Cards and Ganjam district was already at capacity with their quota, proving to be a roadblock in the issuance of new cards. To overcome this, the Garima-TSU worked with Civil Supplies official to identify dropouts from existing ration card beneficiaries— owing to reasons like increase in family income, migration of family to other areas etc. leading to exclusion as per NFSA guidelines. The effort required constant liaisoning across different departments to mobilise as many internal resources as possible. The process became efficient owing to the support of the community organisers and field supervisors.

Following the application collection by the Supervisors, the Community Organisers rechecked the CSWs’ eligibility, as per the NFSA-SFSS criteria. 88 of the 283 CSWs without Ration Cards were found to be eligible for the card under the SFSS. This list was submitted along with a recommendation letter by the Additional Commissioner of Berhampur Municipal Corporation to the Civil Supplies Officer. After further scrutiny by the Zonal Officer of FS&CWD, it was found that eight members from the list were already enrolled in some other documentation for Ration Card, leaving 80 eligible families.

After completing all necessary formalities, the applications were submitted to the FS&CW Department for them to upload the details of the CSWs and their families on the Food Odisha Portal. Since the completion of data collection, verification, and submission, 34 CSWs have received Ration Cards. With active support of supervisors, coordinators of the H&UDD departments and continued follow up by the UMC teams, the process of four months was shortened to two months. These cards were issued by the FS&CWD through the Behrampur Municipal Corporation under the SFSS. 46 more CSWs are to get their cards in the coming months.

The effort goes beyond availing Ration Cards. Community Organisers and Field Supervisors are in constant touch with the identified CSWs of their wards. These CSWs also reach out to Rabindra, for any support required to access benefits under Garima scheme, including the use and benefits of the issued ration card.

This pilot has helped set up a process for providing linkages with ration cards in remaining cities as well. Until the time that there is a single window system that helps convergence across databases of departments and provides an easy hassle-free solution for beneficiaries to access social schemes, such handholding support will be required to ensure that the most vulnerable populations receive the schemes designed for them.


About the Authors

Prerana Somani

Prerana Somani is a Senior Program Manager at the Urban Management Centre. She has more than a decade worth of experience of working in the development sector. Her key areas of expertise include WASH, sanitation workers' safety and security, Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), maternal child health and nutrition.

Rashmita Patel

Rashmita Patel is a Senior Program Manager at the Urban Management Centre. She is a development professional with more than 13 years of experience working with the Government of India, different state governments and with national and international development organisations. She has worked across sectors of urban management, with a focus on gender mainstreaming, social Inclusion and inclusive sanitation

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