India and World Bank sign $125m loan agreement to boost social welfare services in West Bengal

Photo: PTI

The central government, the state government of West Bengaland the world Bank signed a $125 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to boost the state’s social access programs for the poor.

West Bengal operates over 400 programs which provide social assistance, care services and employment. Most of these services are offered through an umbrella platform called Jai Bangla. The West Bengal State Capacity Building Project for Inclusive Social Protection will support these interventions at the state level, with particular focus on vulnerable groups such as women, tribal and scheduled caste households. , and the elderly, as well as households in disaster-prone areas of the state. coastal regions.

The Department of Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Finance said that “the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to put in place seamless systems to provide inclusive and equitable social protection in times of crisis. This project will focus on building the capacity of the state government to expand coverage and access to social assistance and targeted services for poor and vulnerable groups within the state.

The agreement was signed by Rajat Kumar Mishra, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance on behalf of the Government of India; Sudip Kumar Sinha, Secretary, Department of Finance on behalf of Government of West Bengal, and Junaid Ahmad, Country Director, India on behalf of the World Bank.

A recent survey found that while food and in-kind transfers reach most poor and vulnerable households in West Bengal, cash transfer coverage is low. Access to social pensions for the elderly, widows and people with disabilities is also low due to cumbersome application processes and a lack of automated systems for verifying applications and eligibility.

Over the next four years, the project will help build the capacity of the state to expand coverage and access to social assistance and provide cash transfers to the poor and vulnerable through a social registry. consolidated.

West Bengal faces challenges related to manual data entry, inconsistent beneficiary data across departments, and a lack of data storage and exchange protocols. The project will help digitize the state’s unified delivery system, the Jai Bangla platform, to help consolidate disparate social assistance programs and accelerate 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 caseworkers who can help households with advice on elderly care and links to services. and health facilities. It will also create an institutional platform to improve the coordination and effectiveness of government interventions to address the low participation of women in the labor force.

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