Coronavirus update: Lack of awareness an issue in government free-meal scheme at its schools
To ensure that the underprivileged and the marginalised do not sleep hungry, the state government has set up food centres at over 500 schools in Delhi. The midday meal workers, who reside in nearby localities, have been roped in to distribute food.Updated: Mar 30, 2020 07:44 IST
Carrying plastic containers, steel canisters and overused plastic ice-cream boxes, several people queued up outside a government school in east Delhi’s Trilokpuri area Sunday morning, hoping for a meal. The crowd -- comprising mostly daily wage labourers, informal sector workers and their family members -- stood patiently at a distance from one another while waiting for the food promised by the Delhi government.
Navin Nandkishore, a Trilokpuri resident who sets up tents for a living, said he came after hearing from his friends that he might get food there. He was, however, asked to leave since he had brought with him a polythene bag. “They gave me a little food, but only after I pleaded with them. So many came here with polythene bags, why just target me?” he said.
While anyone in need can step into these centres to get a meal, volunteers said they strictly denied those coming to collect food in polythene bags due to “health concerns.” Reeta Gupta, a volunteer at a government school in Trilokpuri’s block-27, said, “There is a scope of touching hands in case of a polythene bag. So we have strictly banned it.”
Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown to tackle the Covid-19 disease on Tuesday, thousands of daily wage workers in Delhi have had to undergo adverse circumstances after their livelihoods were hit as businesses shut. To ensure that the underprivileged and the marginalised do not sleep hungry, the state government has set up food centres at over 500 schools in the Capital. The midday meal workers, who reside in nearby localities, have been roped in to distribute food.
Though the government has promised to arrange for two meals per day at these schools for at least 500 people, lack of awareness about the initiative and restrictions on the movement of people is posing to be a major challenge while reaching out to beneficiaries.
Civil defence volunteers, who are managing the crowd at these schools, said mostly, people start to gather around 10.30am. “However, they had to be dispersed and were told to return in a couple of hours,” said Sudhakar Mishra, one of the five volunteers at the Trilokpuri school.
The queue reappeared at around noon, with people using pieces of cloth or handkerchiefs as masks. When their turn came, they stood inside the circles marked on the ground, stretched out their hands with their containers, and waited till the workers put the food in it.
Daily wage worker Mohammad Abrar, a father of four, was among those waiting for a meal with his daughter at her school in Trilokpuri on Sunday.
“Why didn’t the government think of poor people like us before announcing a lockdown?” he asked, as he packed the container in a cloth bag to ensure the food does not spill. “The school did not inform us about the [food] arrangement. I just happened to notice it when I was passing by. Even if centres like these distribute meals, what is the guarantee that I’ll get it tomorrow again? I always think of saving a portion from my meal from the day so that my children don’t have to beg for food tomorrow,” he said.
While volunteers said that people could cite their family size and food would be distributed accordingly, many expressed their scepticism over it. Dipesh Bahadur, a migrant worker from Nepal who stays with his brother in Dallupura, is among them. While queueing outside the second school, he said he had hidden the food packet from the first school under his jacket. “What else can I do? I had to send all my money home. We have nothing left to eat here. We don’t even have money to pay next month’s rent and don’t know what to do,” he said.
Accessibility to these food centres has also become a major issue for the targetted beneficiaries. For instance, the Janki Devi SKV school in Mayur Vihar Phase I is no longer a food centre, according to school staff, since it is located inside residential quarters. School authorities said the food was transferred to another government school in the nearby Chilla village.
School management committee members said those who required the meals couldn’t reach the school since all surrounding Residents Welfare Association gates were closed except one.
“In the past two days, people were scared to even approach the guards to allow them to enter the premises. We had been doing outreach and trying to get rickshaw pullers and other workers to come to the school for food. But couldn’t manage since the entry points were locked,” said SMC member Sartaj Mohammad.