The Government of India, the Government of West Bengal and the World Bank signed a $125 million IBRD loan to support efforts to help poor and vulnerable groups access social protection services in West Bengal.
West Bengal has more than 400 programmes, most offered through the state’s unified delivery system Jai Bangla, providing social assistance, care services and jobs. The West Bengal Building State Capability for Inclusive Social Protection Project will support these interventions at the state level, with a particular focus on vulnerable groups such as women, tribal and scheduled caste households, senior citizens, and households in the state’s disaster-prone coastal regions.
In its statement issued on the occasion, the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance said that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed for seamless systems to deliver inclusive and equitable social protection in times of crisis. “This project will focus on building the capabilities of the state government to expand coverage and access to social assistance and targeted services for poor and vulnerable groups within the State,” the statement added.
Rajat Kumar Mishra, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance signed the loan agreement on behalf of the Government of India, Sudip Kumar Sinha, Secretary, Finance Department on behalf of the Government of West Bengal, and Junaid Ahmad, Country Director, India on behalf of the World Bank.
According to a recent survey, while food and in-kind transfers reach most poor and vulnerable households in West Bengal, the coverage of cash transfers is not up to the mark.
Access to social pensions by senior citizens, widows and differently-abled persons is also weak due to lengthy application processes and the absence of automated systems for application and eligibility verification.
Over the next four years, the project will help fortify the state’s capability to expand coverage and access to social assistance and deliver cash transfers for the poor and vulnerable through a consolidated social registry.
West Bengal faces challenges related to manual data entry, inconsistent beneficiary data across departments, and a lack of data storage and data exchange protocols. The project will help digitise the Jai Bangla platform, to help consolidate disparate social assistance programmes and speed the delivery of social pensions to vulnerable and poor households.
The project will also support the creation of a teleconsultation network for social care services, complemented by a cadre of case management workers who can help households with advice on eldercare and links to health services and facilities. It will also create an institutional platform to improve coordination and effectiveness of government interventions to address the state’s low participation of women in the labour force.