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Varanasi’s Covid orphans get unexpected help from lion-hearted bureaucrat

IAS Himanshu Nagpal with children in a village school.

Children orphaned in the deadly Covid wave have been struggling for survival and getting education. Despite the government coming up with various schemes, a number of them have been left behind. To help such destitute children, an IAS officer in Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has devised an innovative scheme.

Chief Development Officer of Varanasi, Himanshu Nagpal, has started Project Siddhi to give orphans a quality life.

Under the IAS officer’s leadership, the Varanasi district administration has taken up the transformative project, which involves door-to-door screening of households to locate children in need and cover them with the CM Bal Seva Scheme; offering a scholarship of 2500 rupees per month; and providing them access to a range of around 14 government schemes.

A chance encounter of some orphan girls in a village coaxed Nagpal to come up with a scheme for them. Nagpal recounted an incident at a local school where he noticed four girls absent for several days. Upon enquiry, he discovered that their father had passed away, leaving them without any support. The girls, unaware of the available government schemes due to the lack of a proper mechanism, were forced to work and thus miss out on education. For Nagpal, this encounter highlighted the urgent need for a structured approach to identify and assist such vulnerable children.

“In the scheme’s existence since the last 2 years only 420 such families were identified. But because of hard efforts of Anganwadis and Teachers, 1711 kids have been enrolled in just one month,” Nagpal told local daily Amar Ujala.

Recognising the gap in local awareness, he launched Project Siddhi under the Mukhyamantri Bal Sewa Yojana. It was a month-long intensive campaign that involved collaboration with schools, anganwadi centers, and gram panchayats to identify orphaned children. Certificates of saturation were collected, and the community was encouraged to help these children fill out the required forms. “Through these efforts, 1711 orphaned children were successfully identified, ensuring they could access the benefits of the CM Bal Seva Scheme and other essential government programmes,” Nagpal said.

Buoyed by the success of the initiative, the district administration expanded its outreach to include 13 other government schemes, such as ration cards, Ayushman cards, widow pensions, and national family benefits. Moreover, efforts are also underway to leverage Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to provide educational support to these children. “Earlier, tablets were distributed to 250 children and plans are in motion to further enhance their educational opportunities through CSR collaborations,” the officer said.

Awareness campaigns played a pivotal role in the success of Project Siddhi. Posters and banners outlining the procedures for filling out forms were displayed prominently in schools, anganwadi centers, and panchayats. Additionally, paintings were used to create visual awareness, ensuring that children and their families were well-informed about the available government schemes.

To encourage active participation from teachers and anganwadi workers, the district administration recognised their efforts with appreciation certificates, fostering a sense of pride and recognition for their noble work. “We have received positive feedback from these educators and Anganwadi workers which highlighted the project’s impact and the difference it made in the lives of these vulnerable children,” Nagpal said.