The Andhra Pradesh government should actively take steps to address the challenges faced by the volunteers. Attacks on the volunteers should be taken seriously and provide measures for safer working conditions.
Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy introduced the Village/Ward volunteer system to provide employment opportunities to the youth across the State. Currently, there are 2,50,000 Village/Ward volunteers serving across the State. Each volunteer is responsible for 50 households to provide different services at the citizen’s doorstep. A person between the age group of 18 -36 years is eligible to be a volunteer, an honorarium of Rs. 5,000 per month will be provided by the government.
In the past four months, this volunteer network played a crucial role in creating public awareness about the pandemic, mapping the virus clusters across the State by visiting households, conducting regular checkups, following up with the international and domestic travellers, and distributing the masks and rations to the public at their doorstep. Impressed with the scheme, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and Britain’s Prime Minister Borris Johnson announced that they would be implementing similar projects in their respective States.
The scheme has received appreciation from all quarters. But the challenges faced by the Village and Ward volunteers are being ignored by the government. Despite the higher chances of infections, PPE kits aren’t provided to the volunteers on the ground, not even to those working in the containment zones. Several cases have been recorded where volunteers delivering the public services have tested positive. A volunteer delivering the public services in Tada tested positive.
Attacks on the Volunteers:
Attacks on the volunteers while doing their duties has become an everyday phenomenon. Migrant labour in the Nellore district is attacked the local volunteers for reporting about them to the officials. Kandivalasa village volunteer Lakshmana Rao was attacked by Chinna Rao, his father Sanyasi, and his brother Ramakrishna for asking them not to roam on streets and stay at home. Sripuram village volunteer Sravani was attacked by the toddy tappers for complaining to the police regarding the illegal sale of toddy during the lockdown. Being left out of a survey, an angry local in Vishakapatnam attacked the volunteer with a knife.
In Gangavaram Mandal, Rentakuntla village volunteer Soumya was verbally abused and attacked by Savitramma who forced the volunteer to provide the seeds only to her house. A volunteer in Srikakulam faced opposition from the public while trying to place the quarantine sticker on the door of a household. Plenty of such cases are reported across the State.
Women volunteers working on the ground are even more vulnerable because of safety concerns. There are instances of women volunteers being harassed and attacked while performing their duties. It was reported that the volunteers were assigned duties that are not part of their job. Volunteers from Nellore district complained that they are being used for controlling the traffic also.
Job Security and Working Conditions:
Working for long hours amidst the crisis, volunteers have become crucial in delivering the services in the high-risk areas, albeit at a meagre salary of Rs. 5,000. Though there were speculations about increasing the wage to Rs. 8,000, nothing concrete is announced by the government. Job security is equally another concern for volunteers. Neither considered as government employees, nor as a contract/outsourced employees, the volunteers face a constant threat of job loss.
State support as the need of the hour:
The government should actively take steps to address the challenges faced by the volunteers. Attacks on the volunteers should be taken seriously and provide measures for safer working conditions. The government should come up with a mechanism where the volunteer could directly report to the police in case of an attack. The perpetrators should be given similar punishment to that of assault or criminal force to deter the public servant from discharge of his duty.
A volunteer should be recognized as a contract or an outsourced employee, with stipulated paperwork and benefits in place. Safety of the volunteers should be paramount. Village and ward volunteers must receive health insurance and should be provided with PPE during the delivery of services. The government must come forward to bear the expenditure for the treatment if the volunteer tests positive during their duty. The government must address the issues of the volunteers and ensure their safety for the seamless delivery of services.