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Delhi Needs To Step Up And Address Distress Among Urban Poor During The Lockdown Extension, Say Activists

According to experts, the urban poor in Delhi are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic due to loss of income coupled with dismal living conditions

Delhi Needs To Step Up And Address Distress Among Urban Poor During The Lockdown Extension, Say Activists
  • According to experts and activists, poor are the worst affected by lockdown
  • They assert that the lockdown has put lakhs of daily wagers out of jobs
  • Delhi government is providing Rs. 5,000 each to construction workers

New Delhi: Every day 37-year-old Bhanvari would go to Bhalswa landfill to collect about 20 kilos of waste and then go to a scrap market about three kilometres away to sell it. That was before the lockdown was imposed to check the coronavirus outbreak. Her income back then ranged from Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 per day. With five mouths to feed at home, Bhanvari and her husband, a scrap dealer who collects junk from nearby colonies, used to spend most of the daily total income of Rs. 600 in food, commute, medicines for his father and rent and hardly anything was left for savings.

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While talking to NDTV she said,

It’s been more than a month now since we have earned even a single paisa. I hope that I don’t get the virus but I am more worried about how will I feed my children now? We were not prepared for this. We hear that the Delhi government is providing food but if we are asked to stay indoors why are they expecting us to queue up in crowds to get the food? Had it not been for some NGOs working in this area, we would have lost all hopes.

According to experts and activists, among the worst affected by the ongoing lockdown, imposed to curb the transmission of COVID-19, are the poor. They are also the most vulnerable to the infection because of the lack of proper nutrition, low immunity, cramped living conditions, and financial uncertainty given the temporary nature of their occupation. In order to protect the poor and vulnerable sections in the national capital, experts and social activists have urged the government of Delhi to provide additional support to them.

Chitra Mukherjee, Head – Advocacy and Policy at Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, an NGO that has been working for the welfare of sanitation workers said,

The nation-wide lockdown has put lakhs of daily wage earners like ragpickers, maids, street vendors, construction workers and others working in the unorganised sector into peril. The effect of this lockdown and of the spread of the virus is devastating for slum dwellers. From no jobs and lack of food to no social distancing due to the dire living conditions, the urban poor of Delhi are facing it all.

Also Read: Delhi Sees A Steady Surge In Recovery Rate Among COVID-19 Patients

Major Problems Being Faced By Daily Wagers In The Capital And Measures Taken By Delhi Government

Amrita Johri, an activist associated with Roti Rozi Adhikaar Abhiyan, a people’s movement working for the rights of the daily wage workers and urban poor, emphasized the lack of accessibility to proper food. Being on the ground every day, raising awareness and distributing food to thousands of homeless people and slum dwellers, her observations reveal that people are struggling to survive the lockdown are panicked about their future, their next meal, health and future of their children and keeping themselves safe from the virus. She said,

The government of Delhi is trying to provide food to a large number of homeless and needy people. Apart from providing lunch and dinner at night shelters, they have roped in public schools, turned those into shelters and food distribution spots. Providing food like this is a huge help right now but in the coming days, the focus needs to be given on distributing dry ration to people at their door-step. By ration, let’s not just be limited to providing rice and wheat, there is a need to add pulses, cooking oil, salt and sugar also in the monthly quota.

Ms. Mukherjee’s organisation, Chintan, has reached out to 14,000 urban poor and is providing cooked meals and survival kit that includes dry ration along with hygiene and sanitation products. She highlighted that another major concern that is rising now is that after May 17 when the lockdown is over and the rag pickers get back to work, they will still be exposed to the deadly virus because the discarded masks, gloves, tissues and other soiled items generated along with other waste from houses, are not being dumped properly which will end up in dumps where they look for reusable/ recyclable items with bare hands, exposed to bio-medical hazards. While ICMR has laid down guidelines on managing bio-medical waste generated during diagnostics and treatment of COVID-19 suspected and confirmed patients, that are required to be followed at isolation wards, quarantine centres, sample collection centres, laboratories, urban local bodies and biomedical waste treatment and disposal facilities, there are no such guidelines for individuals who are asymptomatic or are using and disposing off masks and tissue papers for protecting themselves while in public or at home.

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Further highlighting the plight of the urban poor, she said that the slums they are living in with big families are densely populated neighbourhoods – often sharing one room and one bathroom which creates ideal conditions for disease transmission and leaves no opportunities of practising ‘social distancing’. She said,

Once the virus reaches the slums, it could be like wildfire and will spread through the community. This is evident from Dharavi slum case. There are more than 100 cases in that slum now and 10 deaths. It is just a matter of time, we will see this in Delhi as well. There have been Mohalla Clinic doctors getting infected who may have been in contact with many people. Recently, a Delhi government volunteer who was distributing food at shelter homes and slums was tested positive. It is unimaginable how many people are at risk of catching the virus now.

How Is Delhi Supporting Urban Poor To Cope With The Lockdown And Stay Safe

Distribution Of Cooked Food

To ensure regular access to cooked food to homeless and distressed people amid the lockdown, the Government of Delhi has taken up some measures under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. According to Bhaskar Sharma, media official of Delhi Government, these measures include operating helplines in all districts of Delhi to guide and assist all homeless and needy people to the nearest Night shelters and temporary shelters managed by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) for accessing cooked meals. These shelters have sanitary arrangements including toilets and handwashing areas and social distancing measures are being followed strictly at these shelters, as per the official.

According to the official, the state government is currently feeding cooked food that mainly includes ‘khichri’ or rice cooked with lentils to more than 7 lakh people every day at more than 1,600 distribution points across the capital.

Also Read: Coronavirus Outbreak: Door-step Delivery Of Ration Is The Way Forward To Feed The Hungry And Maintain Social Distancing In Delhi

Distribution Of Dry Ration

Initially, only ration card holders under National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 were eligible to get 7.5-kilogram free ration which included 5 kgs provided under the act and additional 2.5 kgs announced by Delhi government in its relief package. Over and above the NFSA provisions and what the Delhi government promised, the Central government also promised 5 kgs of foodgrains to be distributed via state governments. Therefore, in Delhi, each cardholder is entitled to get 12.5kgs of foodgrains.

According to Delhi government, 71 lakh people in Delhi who have ration cards are getting 7.5 kgs of foodgrains as of now. This covers only 40 per cent of the capital’s population, leaving out lakhs of poor people. This prompted the government to start an e-coupon system to provide ration to those who do not have a ration card. For this, the Delhi government started a website on which people without ration card can register to get free ration for three months. The registered persons are being provided with 5 kgs of ration. According to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, 3.5 Lakh people without ration card have received foodgrains through e-coupon system.

Providing Shelter To Stranded Migrant Workers And Homeless

NH Sharma, Director, Night Shelters, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board said to NDTV that Delhi government is trying to accommodate all stranded migrant workers and homeless people. He said that there are around 12,000 migrant workers stranded in Delhi and all of them are being provided space in 346 shelter homes including 123 temporary facilities. He further added that these facilities have capacity of accommodating more than 18,000 people. Delhi government is also setting up more temporary shelters in schools and there is no problem of space, said Mr. Sharma.

Mohalla Clinic Network

Talking about the medical help that government of Delhi is trying to provide the needy, Nimmi Rastogi, Incharge of the Mohalla Clinics in the capital said,

We are running 400 mohalla clinics out which six are currently closed. The operating clinics are well equipped with basic health facilities and our doctors have been trained in identifying the symptoms and then refer the suspected patients to a COVID-19 hospital. We have provided protection devices like masks, face covers and gloves to our doctors and have also arranged for handwashing and sanitising facilities for the visitors since a couple of our doctors too have been infected with the coronavirus.

She further said that more than 2,000 contacts of the infected doctors in Shahdara and in Janta Mazdoor Colony near Seelampur have been traced and quarantined. She said,

We have put out notices asking people to report to them in case they had visited the clinic of the doctor. Clinics are also being sterilised frequently.

Also Read: Central Delhi Gets Mobile Coronavirus Testing Van, Here’s How It Works 

Monetary Benefits And Increased Pensions

The Delhi government had promised one-time financial assistance of Rs. 5,000 each to construction workers, auto, e-riksha and rural service drivers to help them cope with the loss of income due to the lockdown. More than 40,000 construction workers have received the money, said the Delhi government in a press statement. More than 1 lakh drivers have applied for financial assistance.

Along with this, the CM also promised to double the pension amount for senior citizens, widows and people with disabilities for the month of March and has been transferred to their accounts by mid-April.

How Effective Have The Government Measures Been So Far

Rahul Verma, Founder, Uday Foundation, a Delhi based non-government organisation said that the Delhi government has been one of the few state governments who have responded to the pandemic very quickly. However, he pointed out that even as the country is in the middle of the extended lockdown, many are not aware of food distribution centres. He said,

Instead of asking them to call the helpline numbers, the government should go to the people itself and let them know what all places they can get a meal from. The government officials and volunteers must visit the colonies and slums where they live and streets where they can be found easily. Prominent places like bus terminals should have shelters and food distribution centres.

Talking about the promised increase in the quantity of foodgrains to be provided under the public distribution system (PDS), Anjali Bharadwaj of Right to Food Campaign, a people’s initiative for monitoring the implementation of the NFSA said,

Currently, people eligible for ration are getting 7.5 kgs of foodgrains. Delhi has about 2000 ration shops and none of the shopkeepers have received the additional quantities of foodgrain – 5kgs per person that was promised by the central government, as of April 20. When asked, the shopkeepers said that they have not received the additional grains. This can be because the Delhi government has not procured the additional grains yet. Almost one month of the lockdown is going to be completed and we have still not been able to sort the dry ration issue yet. Up till now, nobody has got full 12.5 kgs of dry ration.

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Ms. Johri asserted that nearly 70 per cent of Delhi’s population or 1.3 crore people live in slums but the government is distributing dry ration to only 71 lakh people. She said,

There is absolutely no proof of distribution of ration as of now. None of the ration shops can tell as to who are the people they have distributed ration to? There has to be transparency about this to know if the deserving people are getting their entitlements or not. Why is Delhi government providing a lesser amount of grains to those who have no ration cards? There is no shortage of food stocks and the government must unlock the state food stores to give grains to the poor.

She further said that the grain stocks of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) are now at over 77 million tonnes, which is three times more than the buffer stocks requirements, and adequate enough to meet the immediate food needs of crores of poor right now. She said,

On the ground, we have found many ration shops saying that the stock is over.

Highlighting the problems faced by the vulnerable groups in accessing free ration through e-coupon, Ms. Johri said that most workers do not have a smartphone or the ability to access the internet. Ashi Khatun, a widow who earned Rs. 5,500 a month cleaning houses before the lockdown, said that a person in the office of MLA of her area provided a free of cost digital services to help her apply for the e-coupon but he entered wrong details about her family members because of which she is now getting ration for only three people while there are five people in her family, so she is buying ration from the market. She said, “How will we afford this when we can barely afford milk for the baby at a time like this?” Ms. Johri said that a simpler system is required to register the needy in times of crisis like this. She said,

They need to have a mobile phone to generate an OTP, upload a photo of their Aadhaar card and a photo of their family, and finally, download the e-coupon. This makes the system inaccessible for the poorest and marginalised who need rations.

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While Ms. Bharadwaj acknowledged the intent of the Delhi government behind promising financial sops, she said that a large number of needy people are being excluded from this initiative. Delhi government has promised a transfer of Rs. 5,000 to each construction workers who are registered with the state’s labour department. However, she highlighted that not even 3 per cent of the total number of labourers in the capital are registered. In this case, how the deserving people will get the money, she said. Similarly, she said that an implementation plan is still awaited for rent subsidy that the state has promised. She said,

There is urgent for the government to understand that they need to take their efforts a notch higher to protect the vulnerable citizens.

About pensions, Ms. Bharadwaj said that the centre has promised a pension of Rs. 5,000 to the vulnerable groups but this again is been given to those who already registered pensioners and the number of those who need support is much higher during the ongoing crisis.

The activists from groups like Right to Foood Campaign, Karwan-e-Mohabbat, and Rozi Roti Adhikar Manch working on the ground providing relief to the stranded migrant workers and homeless have confirmed that there are at least 7 lakh stranded migrant workers in Delhi, a number much higher than what was reported by DUSIB. They said that most of these migrants are staying in slums, private shelters and temporary roadside sheds with not enough space to follow social distancing measures.

Three things which the experts ask the Delhi government to do urgently are – provide the promised 12.5 kgs ration to each needy person, make distribution of foodgrains transparent and make the registration process for the non-ration cardholders simpler.

Also Read: Lockdown Blues: Thousands In Delhi Battle Hunger Pangs As Government, NGOs Effort Fall Short

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