At 11.30 am, food packets are stacked up on a makeshift table at Motilal Nagar in Goregaon West. Immediately, men, women and children queue up at the Shiv Bhojan Thali centre — some with masks and others using clothes to cover their nose and mouth.
The queue is disciplined, each comes up to the counter, collects a food packet, looks at a mobile-camera, shouts his or her name and moves ahead. Fifty-something Vedahi Shinde, who worked as a domestic help until the nationwide lockdown was announced, says: “No wonder we are disciplined, we do this every day. This is how we get our day’s meal.”
A flagship scheme of the Uddhav Thackeray government, the subsidised meal is provided at Rs 5 per, instead of Rs 10, to one lakh poor people between 11 am and 3 pm daily across 684 eateries in Maharashtra. On Monday, as per the data provided by the government, 1.8 lakh thalis were distributed.
The scheme is operational at 25 locations in Mumbai (Santacruz, Vile Parle, Andheri, Wadala and Kandivali-Goregaon areas). For many like Vedahi, the meals — comprising two chapatis, daal, rice and sabzi — is the only definite source of food in the day.
Every day since the shut down, workers, watchman and domestic helps, who now find themselves without work, line up waiting to be fed by the government shelters – or anyone else.
Conversation about relaxation of the lockdown and availability of food is constant outside all centres.
Kamlesh Yadav, who was standing in the queue with his wife and two children at the Shiv Bhojan centre on Film City road, asked, “When will this lockdown end? I have no means to provide food for my family. I used to clean the premises in and around studios in Film City. For the last two days, I have been giving Rs 5 for each parcel of the food… I will run out of money soon. Today, we were told that food is for free, let’s see how long they give it for free.”
Each centre on an average is preparing 1,000 rotis, 25 kg of rice, 40 to 45 kg of vegetables and 30 to 35 kg of lentil per day. Owners running the centres, who are distributing nearly 500 meals everyday since April 1, some for even free, said that overpriced ration and lack of transportation are the biggest hurdles. “I am using my own car to transport vegetables and other raw materials. There is no transport chain available. Even the quality of ration is not good. I am paying double the normal price,” said Nevil Kotak, who runs the centre on SV Road at Goregaon West.
Chotelal Yadav, who has been running the centre since the scheme was announced in January, said: “There were problems in between of ration and overcrowding and we had to stop distribution in March. But now a system is running since April 1.”
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