As Delhi grapples with COVID-19, a parallel crisis is unfolding in the city. With the third week of a lockdown coming into view, informal and migrant workers are scrambling for food supplies and struggling to feed their families as the Delhi government has not begun the distribution of rations yet.
While the Central government aims to provide five kgs of additional free ration per person per month under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), the Delhi government had promised to provide regular ration free of cost for the months of May and June. Nearly 71 lakh ration card holders who are entitled to 10 kgs of grains free of cost are still struggling for food.
Radha, a domestic worker, has been out of work for over a month. Her husband, who works as a driver, has been left in the lurch by his employers too. “The ration shops are closed and we have been to the shop over and over again in panic, awaiting supplies. I am clueless about what I will feed my children and how we will manage our next meal," she said.
Poonam Rawat, a pregnant woman who has COVID-19 along with her husband and her three-year-old daughter, said: “We are desperate and struggling for food supplies with no one to reach out to. We don’t know what will happen to us.”
The non-distribution of ration is adding to the economic distress of the working poor, who have lost their sources of livelihood during the lockdown imposed by the government to combat COVID 19. Delay in distribution of rations is forcing people to buy food grains in the open market at non-subsidised prices. Last year the Delhi government had distributed food grains and other essential commodities to nearly 60 lakh people – without ration cards – who were affected by the lock down.
In a letter to the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Andolan (DRRA) said: “Foodgrains provided under the Public Distribution System (PDS) of the National Food Security Act have proven to be a lifeline for the poor and marginalised who possess ration cards. Those who have lost their livelihood are dependent on the foodgrains provided under the PDS to feed themselves and their families. The delay in distribution of rations is resulting in people being forced to purchase food grains from the open market at non subsidised prices.”
Speaking to Newsclick about the situation in Delhi’s bastis, Vandana, a community mobiliser, said: “The crisis is unprecedented; people are desperate for relief and anxious since there are no arrangements in place. The situation is worse for those who do not have ration cards. The number of families requiring food supplies is actually much higher,” she said.
Over the last few days – on account of the continuing lockdown – the condition of daily-wagers, migrant workers and residents of slums, who do not possess ration cards, has become even more precarious.
“Just as an indication of the hunger crisis, in the last few days, DRRAA and other groups working on providing emergency rations have received SOS requests for foodgrains from more than 10,000 persons. In such a scenario, it is inexplicable why the government has not revived the e-coupon scheme, under which last year 60 lakh people who did not possess ration cards were provided free foodgrains," the DRRA letter said.
Amrita Johri, a member of the organisation, told Newsclick that this amounted to "criminal neglect by the government, which is not placing immediate relief to the working classes first on its agenda.”
Activists have slammed the government for being slow and inefficient in setting up hunger relief centers which were being run on more than 2,500 sites last year. However, this year, the operational sites are significantly lesser, with only 250 sites being set up.
DRRA demanded that such centres are needed near construction sites, homeless shelters, bus stops, outside hospitals and train stations, where people in distress congregate. In addition, the organisation asked the government to ensure that updated information about the increased entitlement and schedule of ration distribution is available on its website, outside ration shops and through helplines. It demanded that the authorities ensure all relevant links on the portal indicating current status of ration supply are functional and that an effective hunger helpline is began which is publiclised and records all SOS requirements of food or rations.