With thousands of men, women and children thronging the capital’s 222-odd homeless shelters for food, stretching the system at many places, the Delhi government Friday ramped up arrangements, directing district magistrates to run at least two hunger relief centres each in all 272 municipal wards of the city.
On the first day, 325 schools were notified as hunger relief centres, an initiative announced by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. In its official order, the government acknowledged that the homeless shelter management agencies were finding it difficult to handle the situation.
Delhi houses lakhs of migrant workers who are in acute distress due to the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. It has brought economic activities to a halt, forcing thousands to leave for their villages, while those unable to do so are struggling to arrange two meals a day.
The order to open new relief centres was issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA). Kejriwal said the new arrangement will benefit around two lakh people on the first day, and up to four lakh from Saturday.
For sourcing and distributing food, district magistrates have been authorised to take a call on whether to rope in agencies involved in supplying mid-day meals or charitable organisations.
“Menu for the meals will be Jan Aahar menu and the maximum price payable by the government for each meal is capped at Rs 20 per person per meal or ‘Jan Aahar’ rates, whichever is minimum. To begin with, all DMs may identify two suitable locations in every municipal ward falling within their jurisdiction, preferably a school or community centre, which should function as food centres/hunger relief centres. At every such centre, the agency concerned shall arrange for 500 meals twice (lunch and dinner) per day,” the order states.
Food disbursal mechanism has also been tweaked a little. Unlike night shelters, where anyone can land up for lunch and dinner, in this case the government is redirecting people ringing up distress helplines to such relief centres. All eleven districts are running their own helplines.
“Extending food relief while also keeping social distancing in mind was becoming difficult at night shelters. So, in this case, a person calling up the helpline will be told about the nearest centre. Flying squads are also active at vulnerable spots and communities are being informed about hunger relief centres,” a district magistrate said.
While the South district administration has roped in charitable trusts as well as mid-day meal suppliers, Northeast Delhi authorities are relying solely on agencies supplying mid-day meals.
During a visit to some of the centres, staff were seen trying to spread the word about the new arrangements in their neighbourhoods.
Many AAP MLAs also took to social media to share the development. Burari MLA Sanjeev Jha announced on Twitter that some Delhi government schools in Burari, a locality dominated by migrants, Civil Lines, Timarpur and Kamla Nagar will provide free lunch and dinner to labourers.
At the Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya, Civil Lines, Vandana Rustagi, a TGT English teacher, arranged soap and sanitisers and chalked out circles to help people maintain distance while taking the food packets.
Principal of the school Urvashi Gupta said, “I was told about the decision yesterday. The rice and dal is coming in containers from Burari, where the trust which supplies mid-day meals in our school functions from.”
Rustagi said making people aware of the initiative was the first challenge. “We have put up a board outside our gate, but how will people know? Hopefully, word will spread by evening,” she said, adding that 23 people, including a toddler, had lunch during the day.
Most of them were labourers employed at a construction project at a government school a kilometre away. Rekha Chaudhary (19), a labourer from MP, said, “I am eight months’ pregnant. Our contractor left us without any money and is not picking up his phone.” Her mother-in-law said they had to break grass from a nearby field and cook it with salt to eat with a chapati before this school opened its doors.
At Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Civil Lines, Vijay Kumar, a tehsildar, said, “I informed the pradhan of the Majnu ka Tila basti of Hindu refugees from Pakistan about the food distribution.”
During the press briefing, Kejriwal also sought to reassure his counterparts in other states that the Delhi government will take care of every individual. “No matter which state a person hails from, Jharkhand, Bihar or Tamil Nadu, they are our people too,” the CM said.
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