It’s been an unusual Monday afternoon for Dharmanath Sapera, who, instead of his usual routine of collecting scrap or working at construction sites, is spending the day worrying about arranging the next day’s meal for his family of nine members.
Sapera, who is in his early forties, along with other families living in makeshift shelters at a slum in Jaipur’s Mansarover, has been out of work ever since the Rajasthan government announced a lockdown of the state till March 31, in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak. So far, the state has reported 28 positive cases.
“We went to the chowkri (a place for daily wage labourers to seek work) today, but the police drove us away. They told us to stay at home. If we stay at home, how will we feed our families? We are dependent on our daily income as we don’t have savings,” Sapera, a father of six, told The Indian Express.
Sapera says so far,the people at the slum in which he lives haven’t received any assistance from the government and many go hungry.
“Some individuals donated us wheat and pulses. We have become entirely dependent on charity after losing our income,” says Sapera.
As a result of the lockdown, thousands including daily wage labourers, street vendors and those in the unorganised sector are staring at a massive crisis, with many not even having the means to purchase food.
At the Mansarovar slum, the mood is grim as the residents huddle together. “We will die till March 31. We don’t have any food and if this goes on, our children won’t have anything to eat,” says Anguri Devi, one of the residents.
The Rajasthan government has said that around 23 lakh construction labourers, 5 lakh registered factory workers and around 1 lakh street vendors in urban areas are facing the problem of livelihood. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting the Centre to announce relief packages for this demographic.
Shortly after the lockdown was announced on the night of March 21, Gehlot had tweeted that families who are National Food Security Act (NFSA) beneficiaries, will be provided ration and wheat free of cost till May. In urban areas, daily wagers, labourers, street vendors as well the poor people not listed as NFSA beneficiaries, will also be provided packets of food items for two months from April 1, the chief minister had said.
In several areas of the state, government departments have been distributing food packets to people. But many still wait for assistance.
“We need somebody to supply us at least food grains. We haven’t received food packets from the government yet. We don’t have any work and we can’t take loans from acquaintances because we don’t have the capacity to repay,” says Hansraj Rana, who played drums at weddings before the outbreak.
Activists say the government should take immediate steps to avoid a crisis.
“The government must immediately start distributing ration and food packets to the homeless and labourers. As the state government has no dearth of staff, a proper mechanism should be made involving these employees so that the food reaches every person of such demographic. We can’t wait till April 1 as even now economically backward people have nothing to eat,” says Mukesh Goswami from the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan.
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