Meagre meals and no ration force migrant workers to beg for food
Nirmala Devi, a migrant worker who lives in a jhuggi in Sector 43, Noida, holds on to her toddler as she turns her hopeful eyes towards people walking away from the counter of a Sector 41 liquor store. She feels uncomfortable stretching her hand out to them, but the biting reality of hunger and the toddler hanging onto her make her beg.
Nirmala Devi, a daily wager, who along with her husband, a construction worker, hails from a village in Patna has had no earnings since the lockdown was announced on March 24; she also has no ration card and the meals supplied by the community kitchen are insufficient for her and her family. Begging, she says, is the only option left.
“I could somehow manage with the meals from the community kitchen, but not my child. She cries at night, hungry for milk that we have no money to buy. For the past few weeks, I am surviving on the mercy of others. People give us money; some buy me food or milk. I never imagined that I will have to stand and beg in this city,” she says.
“The meals from the community kitchen are often irregular -- sometimes the distributors don’t bring the food or it is not enough for everyone. We did try to walk back home to Patna, but the police caught us from near Sector 50 and sent us back,” she said.
Meanwhile, a man buys two packets of milk and a biscuit pack from a neighbouring store and hand them to her. She humbly accepts them with folded hands, keeps the milk in a sack and gives the biscuits to her daughter.
Asked if she owns an Aadhaar card, Jan Dhan account or a ration card, she said, “I received no money in my Jan Dhan account and despite giving our name for a ration card, we have neither received the card nor the ration. The last ration I received was in March -- about half a kilo of dal, five kilos of rice and atta, potatoes, oil and a few packets of spices,” Nirmala Devi said.
There are many like her across the city. A number of migrants are forced to beg for food, and are living on the mercy of people out shopping for rations and other items.
Nine-year old Muskaan and her six-year-old sister were among those looking to the goodness of others to survive. Standing in front of a super store in Sector 76, all Muskaan and her sister beg from high-rise dwellers of sectors 77 and 76 is little bit of rice or flour or some milk. Her family migrated from West Bengal to Noida and were working as daily wagers, but that stopped when the lockdown was clamped.
“Our mother goes to get meals from the Bhangel community kitchen, and we come here to get whatever help we can get,” Muskaan said.
Ram Swaroop, another migrant from Bihar who lives in the slums of Sector 16, said, “The last earning I got was ₹450, a day before Holi (March 9), when a contractor took me and a few others to clean a vacant plot of bushes and garbage. There had been no work since then. The food van comes here, but sometimes they stop, sometimes they don’t. I have family to feed, what option do I have other than begging?”
Despite the tall claims of the district administration, ration and community kitchen meals are still not reaching those that need them the most. But officials insist that it is reaching the poor.
“There has been no changes in the meals we are supplying since Day One of lockdown. We try to reach as many people as we can. When we get calls from people that food is not being delivered in their areas, we direct the distribution teams to ensure that they cover those areas as well,” Vir Singh, tehsildar and in-charge of city’s largest community kitchen at Mamura, said. The kitchen dispatches meals to over 17,000 people daily.
While there are no official number available as to how many poor migrants live in the city, a rough estimation puts their number at 1 lakh -- based on the number of meals being distributed through the community kitchens. Around one lakh to 1,00,436 meals are distributed through 16 community kitchens, officials said.
Stating that meals are served twice a day – without exceptions—Singh said the main aim is to ensure that the supplies don’t run out.
“It’s wrong to say that meal deliveries are sometimes skipped. One day we ran out of rice, so before it could reach us through official channels, I put in ₹50,000 from my pocket and sent the workers to buy the rice to ensure that meals are not skipped,” he said.
Officials attribute faulty deliveries to the difficulties of serving a large population.
“There could be some exceptions and maybe, on occasion, people missed their meals, but we ensure that the meals dispatched from community kitchen reach everyone. Social workers, too, help us ensure that food reaches everyone,” Rajiv Mohan Saxena, who heads the Harola community kitchen, said. It distributes food to over 14,000 people daily.