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Harshraj Singh, Hindustan Times
Ludhiana, October 16, 2013
Poverty continues to afflict many in the industrial city of Ludhiana. While the world would observe International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17, 30-year-old Kashi Ram, a rag-picker who lives in a slum near Sherpur Chowk, would be scavenging through the many garbage dumpsters of the city to feed his family of a wife and two children.

With a mere earning of Rs. 2000 a month, Ram says lack of money has been such that he and his family cannot even afford three square meals a day. Originally hailing from Bihar, Kashi and his wife Sunita have been living in the Sherpur Chowk slum for four years now. “We have lost four children to poor health,” says Ram. “We could not afford their treatment.”

Ram's wife Sunita is suffering from anaemia, a condition caused by iron deficiency in the body. Though the Centre-sponsored Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana - National Health Insurance Programme - provides for health insurance for people living below the poverty line (BPL), not many who are eligible for the benefit are aware of it.

Even a state government-sponsored scheme for providing wheat flour and rice at subsidised rates to BPL families has not helped Ram. “We aren't aware of any such scheme,” he says. 

Kashi Bai, an 80-year-old woman living in the same slum for 20 years now, too has not benefitted from any scheme for the poor. “We don't have any card to get wheat and pulses at low rates, so sometimes we eat food with pickle or salt,” says Bai.

Bai is blind and suffering from multiple health problems. “But medical teams only visit us during polio drives. Otherwise, no health official visits our area to educate us or conduct medical check-ups,” she says.

Bai's son Mohan Lal is 52, but looks like a 70-year-old because of malnutrition and ill-health. Lal works at a cremation ground, but earns only that when a body comes there. Asked if he has benefitted from any government-sponsored scheme, he answers with a no: “I am unaware of any scheme for the poor. It is not rare for our children to sleep on an empty stomach.”

Deputy commissioner Rajat Agarwal was not available for comment. However, contacted, district family welfare officer Dr Maninder Singh said they were providing folic acid tablets to anaemic women from the economically weaker section. “We do visit slums to create awareness. Anyone living there and requiring medical aid can visit nearby dispensaries,” he said.