Coronavirus outbreak: State government rolls out supplies for poor; not enough, say people

Updated: Apr 03, 2020, 07:23 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

As BMC, civil supplies and labour departments begin distribution of relief, a majority of those affected by lockdown are only getting rice, wheat and pulses

Visually challenged Anita and husband Dhananjay Bhagat, who live in Andheri, are both ration card holders
Visually challenged Anita and husband Dhananjay Bhagat, who live in Andheri, are both ration card holders

With the 21-day lockdown, a significant part of the city's population has lost its regular source of income and has little or no access to food. While the government has announced food distribution among them, many are unaware of it. Ration card holders, who are getting limited supplies, are unable to afford oil, spices and vegetables

Twenty-year-old Anita and her 35-year-old husband Dhananjay Bhagat, who live in a hutment in Andheri, are blind since birth. Neither of them have jobs, so they rely on the earnings of their respective mothers, who worked as domestic helps and jointly earned around Rs 8,000 per month. However, the family is struggling to make ends meet as both the women have lost their jobs.

Fortunately, Anita and her husband are both ration card holders which helps them to get a limited supply of food grains. Despite this, they are struggling to buy cooking oil, sugar, spices and vegetables, since none of that is included in the relief being given to lakhs of ration card holders in the city.

Speaking to mid-day, Anita said, "We don't have sugar in the house and this month we didn't even get pulses. My husband and I can't look for jobs so we can't contribute to the family's income either. The government is giving us rice, but if we can't buy oil and spices, what do we cook? Even vegetables are so expensive."

Tailor Mohammed Jamil Akhtar Sheikh, who lives in Malvani, has been using his savings to feed his family of eight because he wasn’t aware that the government is distributing food
Tailor Mohammed Jamil Akhtar Sheikh, who lives in Malvani, has been using his savings to feed his family of eight because he wasn't aware that the government is distributing food

'No pulses in ration'

Jai Parmeshwar Mati, 45, who lives in Siddharth Nagar in Andheri has a similar story. A civic painter, Mati has had no work since February. He has seven mouths to feed at home. His family's last hope is his wife, who still works at two houses and earns a salary of around Rs 3,000.

"The amount we get from the ration shop doesn't last the entire month and we almost never get pulses. If the government doesn't help us out, how will I feed my family," he said.

The Public Distribution System supplies each ration holder with three kilos of wheat, two kilos of rice and one kilo of pulses every month.

Kailash Pagare, controller of rationing from the Food and Civic Supplies Department said, "In another seven to eight days, we will procure additional relief and send it to the ration shops. Over and above the regular supply, each ration card holder will get an additional five kilos of rice for the next three months starting April."

He said supplying other essentials was not part of the government's decision.

Bilal Khan, an activist from Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan, said, "Things like salt, sugar, oil and spices are also essential items and since those living the slum areas have no income now, they cannot afford them."

No clue at all

Some ration card holders have no clue of the government's relief measures. Tailor Mohammed Jamil Akhtar Sheikh, who lives in a slum in Malvani, has been burning through his savings to feed his family of eight.

 civic painter Jai Parmeshwar Mati, who is also a ration card holder, lives with his family in Andheri
Civic painter Jai Parmeshwar Mati, who is also a ration card holder, lives with his family in Andheri 

"I have a small shop but now I have no work and no one else in my family earns. We have been using our savings to buy food supplies directly from the market. If the government is offering food, then they should tell people about it. None of my neighbours know about it and we are all really worried about how to continue to feed our families," he said, adding that he barely has any money left.

The labour department is supplying construction labourers pre-cooked meal packets and has asked builders to supply them with other essentials as well. They have set up two kitchens in Bhiwandi and Koparkhairne. However, there are hurdles in procurement and distribution.

SC Srirangam, CEO of Maharashtra Buildings and Other Construction Worker's Welfare Board, said that while the builders have submitted a list of 60,000 construction labourers, the actual number is lower since many have returned home.

"We have asked the site coordinators to share a fresh list. But many site coordinators are not picking up meal packets to be distributed among the labourers and many want to cook their own food," he said.

While city collectorate officials have been procuring oil and spices through donations and have been supplying to around 11,000 migrant labourers, the suburban collectorate is in a tie-up with the BMC to supply food to around 9,000 people.

"If the BMC and NGO tells us their requirement, we will provide them with food grains. The food will be cooked in the community kitchens and then distributed among people who do not have ration cards," said Sonali Muley, deputy collector at the suburban collectorate.

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