As part of the ‘new normal’ in post-Covid society, the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is willing to launch co-branded credit cards with Rotary for consumers to make digital payments at energy retail outlets across the country. “Every day, over 45 million people visit retail outlets, namely petrol, diesel and LPG filling stations, to meet their energy requirements, and Rotary should promote the use of digital platforms for retail payments for saving the cost of handling and transferring hard currency,” said Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Petroleum Minister, at a virtual meet attended by 500 Rotarians including senior Rotary leaders led by RIPN Shekhar Mehta.
About 75 per cent of transactions at petrol stations, and 95 per cent at LPG refilling stations are in cash. The Minister urged Rotary India to take up a strident campaign for digital payments and encourage people to adapt to the ‘new normal’ after the Covid pandemic subsides. “I will talk with the oil PSUs on the issue of co-branded cards for such retail payments,” he promised.
During this pandemic people’s ways of working, lives and social relationships have all gone for a toss and “we will have to come to terms with a changed world by enhancing our knowledge of digital systems that will set new benchmarks in emerging new economic models,” he said.
During his interactions with the working age population (16–59 years) in China, Japan and South Korea, he had found that they always kept sanitisers in their bag even before the Covid outbreak. “Skilling is a continuous learning process in our life to improve our living conditions. There are around 40 crore smart devices in the country, with some people using more than one smartphone. Rotary can take the initiative to re-distribute old devices among poor children and their families by forming digital banks to bridge the digital divide. This will speed up their economic progress,” the Minister said, adding that skill development starting with digital literacy will play a key role in the emerging knowledge-based economy. He urged Rotary to chart out joint programmes with Union Ministry of Skill Development. RIPN Mehta intervened to add that Rotary clubs are aiming to impart skill training to 50,000 people in the next five years.
With such smart devices, people can protect themselves by using apps like Aarogya Setu that help in contact- tracing of Covid-infected patients, he said. Niti Aayog has identified 115 out of 732 revenue districts as ‘aspirational districts’ in need of development and Rotary can implement their welfare initiatives in health, literacy, sanitation, water, etc in these backward areas.
Lives vs livelihoods
During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, countries that gave importance to “saving lives went on to become superpowers as they were served well by vigilant social and voluntary groups.” He listed government initiatives to reduce Covid fatalities by enforcing lockdown and providing stimulus packages to revive the economy. The social, psychological and economic impact of the pandemic would be felt for a long time, he said, “but India has managed well compared to developed countries like the US, UK and Russia, thanks to the united efforts of voluntary groups like Rotary and State governments.”
The ‘collective wisdom’ of voluntary agencies, governments and civil society has helped the country in its fight against Covid-19. Schemes like Gharib Kalyan Yojana (foodgrains, pulses to poor, direct benefit transfer), Jan Dhan Yojana (direct transfers), Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (free LPG cylinders for eight crore widows for three months), putting money in the bank accounts of disabled, old-age pensioners and widows, and crediting money into over 10 crore accounts through the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana were some of these.
We’re looking forward to partner with oil PSUs in part-funding the e-learning programme.
– Shekhar Mehta, RI President Nominee
In two months, Rotary has distributed masks, sanitisers, PPEs, medical supplies and equipment including ventilators, and provided food to the needy, spending around ₹200 crore, the Minister noted. He recalled various eye camps and hospitals being run by Rotary clubs in Odisha that “I have been a witness too and their impact in my State.”
GoI nod for two schemes
E-learning curriculum for Classes 1–10 was okayed by the government under its Vidyadhan Shiksha programme which can be delivered to 10 States and for rest of them, the Hindi audio-visual content will be translated and given as per specific needs, said RIPN Mehta in his address. “We are looking for CSR funds as the cost of developing the digital curriculum is ₹15 crore. We’re looking forward to partner with oil PSUs in part-funding the e-learning programme.” Once the GoI’s Operation Digital Board fructifies, “our e-learning will reach out to every child in every government school,” he assured.
Under Adult Literacy, the GoI has approved Padhna Likhna Abhiyan of Rotary on May 13, a programme “much loved by the then HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar. It aims to make 10 crore adult illiterates literate, and with the GoI taking care of another 10 crore, we can increase total literacy from 74 per cent (last census) to over 95 per cent in the next five years.” Mehta said the blueprint, curriculum and partnerships are in ready-mode for implementing the Adult Literacy project.
Rotary also wants to implement 10 per cent of government’s water projects such as check dams and rejuvenation of water bodies. “We will be taking up 10,000 check dams and restoring 10,000 water bodies in the next five years,” he said. Under the Har Ghar Jal Jeevan Mission, Rotary will be adopting 1,000 villages and will implement ODF+ programmes in 5,000 villages in the next five years.
Over 30,000 schools were provided with handwash stations and sanitation facilities. In the next five years, 30 crore trees will be planted, 12 lakh households will get solar lights and 4,000 villages will have solid waste management systems. In the health sector, 50 eye hospitals will be set up and perform 2.5 lakh eye surgeries each year; 40 blood banks will come up; and one lakh dialysis machines will be installed, besides clubs holding medical camps that will screen 50 lakh patients in the next five years. “Rotary will be a strong hand of the government in implementing its health, water, sanitation, cleanliness and literacy programmes,” said Mehta.
Covid-19 relief efforts
Rotarians’ contributions to PM CARES Fund had crossed ₹105 crore and money was still coming in. At the ground-level, the value of work done by Rotarians stood at ₹85 crore, he said.
Rotary has given so far over one crore masks, 75,000-plus PPEs, more than four million meals, and medical equipment, supplies and ventilators worth ₹16 crore. An online mental health programme of Rotary has clocked 4,000 hours. “When corporates give, they do it from their profits. But we have to take it out from our savings which is a tough task but Rotarians have stood up to the challenge,” he said. Each of the 38 RI districts in India does 1,500 projects a year.
He complimented Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government for taking “excellent steps to stop the spread of Covid-19 in a country with 135 crore people.” He recalled Rotary’s efforts in eradicating polio, except in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in partnerships with Unicef, US CDC, WHO and the Gates Foundation.
RIDs Bharat Pandya and Kamal Sanghvi, RIDNs A S Venkatesh and Ravi Vadlamani, and Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty spoke.