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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Some warm comfort at Delhi’s 209 shelter homes: Assured meals twice a day

“Jannat will keep eating a dish if she likes it,” said Alisha as she fed her halwa, which was part of the meal provided at the home on Sunday.

Written by Ashna Butani | New Delhi |
August 9, 2021 1:58:21 am
Alisha and her family at a shelter home in Sarai Kale Khan (Express)

Everything about 10-year-old Alisha’s life changed since the lockdown in 2020: her family left their rented apartment and moved to a shelter home in Sarai Kale Khan, she dropped out of her school in Ghaziabad, and now spends most of her time taking care of her one-year-old sister, Jannat.

“Jannat will keep eating a dish if she likes it,” said Alisha as she fed her halwa, which was part of the meal provided at the home on Sunday.

At noon, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched the Mukhyamantri Poshahaar Yojana, a shelter home feeding initiative in collaboration with non-profit organisation Akshaya Patra Foundation, at Sarai Kale Khan. Food will be permanently served at all 209 shelter homes, run by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, twice a day.

The CM said, “The first duty of any responsible government is to work towards the betterment of the poorest of the poor, but the governments did not serve the cause because they were not their vote-bank. But the Aam Aadmi Party government is a sensitive and responsible government.”

Over 5,000 people are currently residing in these shelters and the number is expected to double in winter. Many of them, like Alisha’s family, left their old lives behind during the lockdown.

At the inauguration of the new scheme, Alisha was among the children who gave a handmade card to the Chief Minister. She drew a portrait of herself on pink chart paper and wrote the word ‘myself’ on it.

However, she said she has forgotten how to read and write and cannot do so without help. Even though classes are taking place online, the family does not have a smartphone or the teacher’s contact number so she had to drop out eventually.

Alisha’s parents used to work as beldars or found jobs as caterers in functions and weddings. Her mother Nagini (32) said they had been forced to leave their rented house in Ghaziabad, eight days after the first lockdown.

“Without work, we could not pay the Rs 4,000 rent … we took to the streets and somehow found our way to the shelter home,” she said. The family is originally from Agra, but they do not have a big enough house or any land there.

A few months later, Jannat was born in Safdarjung Hospital, and expenses have been mounting ever since. She and her husband search for catering or beldari work every day but get employed once in a blue moon. On such days, Alisha steps in and takes care of Jannat.

Nagini said, “We used to get at least one good meal a day here… but we still have to buy milk. We need at least 1 litre in a day.” She added that Jannat recently got food poisoning. After nothing helped, they took her to a private doctor and spent Rs 1,200 on her treatment.

The tasty food on Sunday was the only semblance of her old life, said Alisha, who enjoyed the paneer and hoped they would get it every day.

Tabrez Ahmed (28) shares a similar fate as her family. Ever since the lockdown last year, the B.Tech dropout from Patna has been running from pillar to post to get a stable job. His employers, a private company in Chennai, did not pay him for months last year. He then shifted to Delhi and worked at a hotel in Chandni Chowk where he was paid Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 less than the promised amount of Rs 8,000. He was staying in a shelter home nearby.

Ahmed said: “In the last few years, I have faced financial and personal problems and cannot go back to my family in Bihar.”

Twenty days ago, he quit his job and came to the Sarai Kale shelter; he plans to stay here until a new job materialises.

The food on Sunday made his day too. “Food has been my biggest expense. Without worrying about this, I can earn a little through odd jobs, go for an interview in Noida, and hopefully land a job with a private company in the next month,” he said.

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