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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

In food lines at Delhi government schools, a 2020 redux

With the lockdown extended for the fourth time since April 19 amid the Covid surge in the capital, several workers, who stand in line to pick up their meals, say they are left with no job and no money.

Written by Ashna Butani | New Delhi |
Updated: May 14, 2021 8:28:10 pm
Connaught Place in New Delhi (PTI)

Scenes from the 2020 nationwide shutdown are replaying outside government schools across Delhi as daily wagers stand in line to pick up their meals. With the lockdown extended for the fourth time since April 19 amid the Covid surge in the capital, several workers say they are left with no job and no money.

In an order dated April 20, the Delhi government said a committee of officers is to be constituted to ensure welfare of daily wagers and migrant workers. The committee is tasked with ensuring that food, water, shelter, clothing and medication are made available to workers.

Those at construction sites are to be provided with food, shelter and other medications, too. “For the purpose of providing food, the contractors providing mid-day meals to school children in government and MCD schools, should be utilised,” stated the order.

The Supreme Court too on Thursday ordered a series of steps for workers’ welfare – from transport to home districts and food to dry ration without insisting on identity cards.

At Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Rajgarh Colony on Friday, 50 people lined up at 12.30 pm to pick up their lunch comprising rice and curry. Among them was Vijay Kumar (20), who reaches the school every day with two containers and collects a meal for one – even though there are three to feed at home.

Kumar, who used to work at a cloth factory in Gandhinagar before the lockdown, said, “My parents are dependent on me financially. I used to earn Rs 6,000 before the factory shut. We still have to pay Rs 4,000 for rent. Sometimes, school authorities give extra food and I take it. Otherwise, we manage somehow by borrowing from others.”

Two classroom desks had been set up inside the school, one for the rice and the other for curry. School staff served the food while guards ensured social distancing was maintained. Civil defence volunteers, who have been assigned vaccination duty, lent a hand as there was no vaccination on Friday. Staff said the food is the same as mid-day meals that used to be served to students, and that it comes from the district magistrate’s office.

By the time Rajkumar (60) arrived, the rice was over and he only got curry. He used to drive an e-rickshaw in the area before the lockdown. “I lost my wife many years ago… I have three sons who live separately now. They have families to take care of so they do not help me financially.” He visits the school twice a day for meals.

Ranjeet Singh (56) used to work at a government office as a driver but lost his job in January, and the lockdown only exacerbated his problems. He said, “It takes two-three months to find a new job. In the lockdown, it is even more difficult.” His wife goes to Gurdwara Sis Ganj for ‘sangat’ in the mornings and gets langar food from there, while he comes to the school to pick up meals.

After serving food to around 300 people, school staffer Bijender broke for lunch. He said he would go to his home in Seelampur, eat, and come back for the evening session when dinner is served at 5.30 pm. There is no fixed timing but the school staff pack up after all the food is over. People do not need to show any ID proof to collect food.

School staff said fewer schools are giving out food as most schools – 186 at the moment – are functioning as vaccination centres.

At Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in East Delhi’s Gandhi Nagar, which is undergoing construction work, Kalawati and her husband said they get their meals every day from here. The couple and their four children stay in a temporary shed in the school. Unlike last year, when they had attempted to head to their hometown in Madhya Pradesh, they decided to stay in the construction site as they had all the amenities they needed.

Kalawati said, “As soon as the lockdown was announced last year, and we heard that work will stop, we left for home on foot. Police stopped us near Ghaziabad and took us to a shelter home in a school, where we were stuck for two months.”

This lockdown, however, construction work is permitted if workers are living on the site. The family gets both their meals from the school. Out of 30 workers at the site, around 25 went home this year. Workers get a daily wage of Rs 350 each.

School staff said a truck carrying cooked food comes in from the Shahdara district office twice a day and is enough to feed 300 people.

A district authority said, “A few schools had been identified across the city. Since the crisis is not as severe as last year, the schools identified were in pockets where there are many migrant workers and a few in-situ construction sites. There would be approximately 170 such sites.”

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