By Digital Empowerment Foundation
With more than 450,000 workers (of which 262,000 are permanent workers) engaged in 330 registered big tea gardens spread over Darjeeling (including Kalimpong), Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar districts, the tea plantation industry is the largest employer in the formal private sector in West Bengal. The West Bengal state government has introduced welfare schemes that are applicable in tea gardens such as Kanyashree, Lakshmi Bhandar, Cha Sundari and Manabik among others. However, Since the benefits of these schemes are all conditional cash transfers, increased access, inclusion, enrollment, and uptake of these schemes will enhance lives and livelihood conditions.
Our consultations with grassroot organisations revealed that while there have been some registrations for government schemes, there is a general lack of awareness, incorrect state of Aadhar, incomplete documentation etc. has led to restricted access, enrollment and uptake of the schemes, which have prevented the benefits from percolating to the intended beneficiaries. In this context, Swaniti is working closely with the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) to strengthen access to core welfare programs for tea garden workers.
As a part of the program intervention, DEF’s model of SoochnaPreneurs will be integrated at the garden level. These SoochnaPreneurs are local community youth who are trained to conduct door to door surveys to understand the challenges to public services and with the help of DEF’s Mera App beneficiary profiles will be created through which beneficiaries can have improved access to government programs. So far, four SoochnaPreneurs from four gardens in Alipurduar: Gopalpur, Kadambini, Lankapara, and Bandapani have been selected, where the first two gardens are open, while the last two are closed. The intent of this selection was to ensure inclusivity and diversity. The selection of the identified SoochnaPreneurs, all female, was made based on their prior survey experience, computer literacy, and recommendations from Pradhans and Union leaders.
SoochnaPreneurs have received training on the Survey Man app, the inhouse data collection app of Swaniti Initiative. Swaniti team along with DEF had organised two training sessions, one virtual and one physical. The first physical training was held on July 6, 2022, and the first virtual training was held on July 8. The SoochnaPreneurs have started their survey since 11th July 2022 and have collected over 200 responses.
We hope to see progressive updates on this initiative in the newsletters that follow.