During this pandemic which has brought the world to a standstill, Rotarians are looking at opportunities to do good and help the government fight Covid-19.” With these words RID Bharat Pandya opened a webinar with Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping. Senior Rotary leaders discussed future partnerships with the GoI.
RIPN Shekhar Mehta congratulated the GoI for showing remarkable leadership in handling the Covid-19 crisis and highlighted the work done by Rotarians across India. “We have contributed ₹105 crore towards the PM CARES fund. Corporates contribute from their CSR funds, but this money that we have donated comes from the savings of our Rotarians. At the grassroots level our Rotarians have spent ₹90 crore over food packets, sanitisers, PPE kits and medical equipment.”
He pointed out that these figures are a week-old and the money spent by Rotarians has crossed ₹200 crore, (including ₹105 crore for PM Cares Fund). “We have converted many of our Rotary hospitals to Covid hospitals and have also been focusing on mental health.”
Stressing on mental health, the Minister said, “Samasya ghambir hai, logon ke mann me darr hai (It is a difficult time and people are scared). It is good to know that you are working towards spreading positivity. I wish more Rotarians could talk to more people, boost their confidence and assure them everything will be alright soon.” On a lighter note, he said, “We will all have to learn the art of living with corona. I request Rotarians to spread awareness about safeguarding ourselves from the virus.”
Gadkari talked about the many programmes the GoI is planning to implement in future. “We are working towards solving the drinking water crisis across India. We would appreciate if Rotary could help in creating awareness on saving water.” For a start, “we could partner to help the rickshaw pullers in Kolkata replace their hand-pulled rickshaws with electronic rickshaws. This is the worst form of labour, and it must be stopped,” he said.
He requested Rotary to help 2,000 women who work at the Baramulla Khadi Udyog in Kashmir. “Each woman makes 80 men’s handkerchiefs per day and earns ₹5 a piece. If you could do anything to make their lives better, it will be great.”
Mehta immediately said, “we will place an order for five lakh handkerchiefs, with the Rotary logo embroidered on it.” The Minister accepted the proposal and said, “Rotary has done so much in India in the areas of rural healthcare and literacy. The GoI is proud to partner with it.” Gadkari also mentioned that the government has been planning to plant trees on the National Highways. Before he could finish, Mehta quickly rose up to the occasion and asked, “Whom should we get in touch with to start? We have put up trees in crores.”
RIDN A S Venkatesh emphasised that Rotary’s interface with the government is a valuable input for Rotary leadership in India, and said that meetings like these “help us understand the government’s priorities so we can lend a shoulder. Rotary in India has a strength of 1.6 lakh educated, accomplished and committed foot soldiers with whom the government could associate in times of such crises.” PRID P T Prabhakar introduced the 12 panel members and observed that “all 38 DGs, DGEs and DGNs are present today for this meeting.”
RID Kamal Sanghvi, moderating a Q&A session, asked the Minister, “What are the long and short-term plans that the government has for MSMEs as many of our Rotarians who own such enterprises would like to know.” MSME is the backbone of our economy, Gadkari said, and added that within 45 days, the GoI will issue an order for the MSMEs to receive their pending payments. Apart from this, there are plans to “increase exports by 60 per cent and create five crore new jobs.” He asked the MSMEs to see this crisis as a “blessing in disguise. Every country is looking to partner commercially with new countries. India could be that new partner the world is looking for, with the help of our MSMEs,” he added.
The engaging webinar had close to 2,000 attendees and over 25,000 people watching it live on Facebook. RIDN Ravi Vadlamani delivered a vote of thanks.