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Thursday, October 01, 2020

On land, and then by boat: How food reaches 80 on a tiny Yamuna island

Living in tents and small huts, the residents do not have power or LPG connections. Before the lockdown, they would row out to Okhla to get groceries, vegetables and drinking water and cook on mud chulahs using wood.

Written by Abhinav Rajput | New Delhi | Updated: April 28, 2020 11:14:30 am
Delhi coronavirus news, delhi yamuna coronavirus, yamuna island coronavirus covid-19 delhi, delhi lockdown, delhi lockdown extension, delhi lockdown opening date, delhi covid-19 cases, coronavirus news delhi news Once a day, residents of Mayur Vihar Phase III send across food to residents.

A car, a motorcycle and a boat — bringing food to 80 people living on a tiny island on the Yamuna is a unique challenge. On Sunday, on the menu for residents of Chilla Yamuna Khadar was puri, sabzi, halwa and a special treat for the children: chips.

The food is cooked in a courtyard next to a sweet shop in Mayur Vihar Phase I, whose residents decided to send food to those on the island once a day. A resident, Virender Sachdeva, packs food in cartons and sends them off in a car that heads to DND flyway. At the mouth of the flyway, driver Sonu Pandit, who does farming in Yamuna Khadar, stops and makes a phone call. Five minutes later, a man on a motorcycle, Lokesh Sharma, Pandit’s friend who lives in Shakarpur, takes the carton and rides through 3 km of a muddy track along the Yamuna.

He reaches the end of the track, where a boat awaits him. On the boat is Suraj, a fisherman who lives in Yamuna Khadar. A 15-minute ride later, the food finally reaches residents. Having lost their means of livelihood after the lockdown, the residents are dependent on Sachdeva and his team. With water on three sides and tall shrubs growing out of muddy water on the fourth which leads to the DND Flyway, the residents are locked in.

Living in tents and small huts, the residents do not have power or LPG connections. Before the lockdown, they would row out to Okhla to get groceries, vegetables and drinking water and cook on mud chulahs using wood. With shops closest to them shut and no income, they have nothing to do but wait. Children who live on the island go to a government school nearby on boats.

Most residents work as labourers in nearby shops, construction sites or grow vegetables. “Aaj bachchon ke liye chips bhi hain,” said Pandit. As children queue up waiting for the treat, Shikha Kumari (20) gets in line too. Her father grows tomatoes but has had no buyers since the lockdown. “Earlier, we sold to traders who came in small trucks near DND. Since the lockdown, they have stopped coming,” she said. She used to work as a cleaner in a beauty parlour but has been home for a month now, without wages.

The virus has not touched the island so far. “This is a safe place to be in these times as hardly any outsider ventures here, but it also makes life difficult as they are dependent on outside support for even small things,” said Pandit.

People started living in Chilla Yamuna Khadar around 20 years ago when flooding forced them to leave their jhuggis on the Yamuna bank. Kavita Kumari’s house has a wall made of a ply sheet, supported by a tree trunk.

Outside is a cot, a mosquito net and a few clothes. The 24-year-old is learning to use the computer at an institute in Abul Fazal Enclave.

“My father helped make tin sheets. Now construction has stopped, we are at the mercy of others… Earlier, my sisters and brothers went to school where they would get the mid-day meal, now even school is closed. They have started online classes and we use solar power to charge mobile phones. Not everyone has that, so the others go to Okhla and charge their phones at shops or friends’ homes, which is not possible these days,” she said.

Sachdeva first found out about the island a few days after the lockdown, when an acquaintance told him about people in need of food and supplies. He, businessman Vijendra Dhama and a sweet shop owner, Rajiv Kohli, then started a kitchen for those in need.

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