Sixty-year-old Malti Devi along with her husband and daughter is dependent on rice grain from the ration shop at Satbarwa village in Jharkhand’s Palamu district, but it isn’t enough. There is no oil or vegetable available at home since the lockdown began. Arjun Manjhi, a daily-wage labourer from the same place, too doesn’t have anything at home. They are part of around eight lakh people being fed daily through Mukhyamantri Didi Kitchen and Dal Bhaat Kendras.
In Jharkhand, most of the poor are getting cooked food once a day through Dal Bhaat Kendras and twice through Didi Kitchen which is run by self-help groups in all panchayats.
Didi Kitchen, which has been running since April 3, feeds between 4.5 lakh-5 lakh people daily, free of cost. Across the state, 6,629 kitchens are run by the women self-help groups on voluntary basis under the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS).
Malti and Arjun walk for a kilometre to the kitchen where they get food and pack some for their family members. “What to do, we are helpless. The government gives us some food and there is some relief,” said Malti.
An officer of JSLPS said they have allotted Rs 20,000-40,000 per panchayat to buy essentials like oil, vegetables, rice, pulses among others.
“In Phase 1, we started with one kitchen in every panchayat. Now, many panchayats have two centres. We have 2.5 lakh SHG groups in the state and are using their service to fight the pandemic,” the officer said. Priti Kumari, a member of Satbarwa self-help group, said: “We are a group of three as two others left because they were not ready to do voluntary work. We procure wood for fuel, and all others ingredients with the money provided by panchayat…”
In Khunti’s Rania block, 27-year-old self-help group member Heeramati Devi said: “Every day we feed around 150-160 people in our area. It is mainly elderlies, the disabled and orphans who come.”
In Ranchi district, 40-year-old Manoj stands in a line that goes to another set of community kitchens called Dal Bhaat Kendras. Across the state, the kendras serve food once a day, except in Ranchi where food is served twice.
At present there are 1,279 Dal-Bhaat Kendras run by the Food and Public Distribution Department. Additional Chief Secretary Arun Singh said between March 30 and April 17, the kendras fed 65.34 lakh people.
He said the state had 331 dal bhaat centres, which charged Rs 5. “We removed the food charge and added 537 more centres. In addition, 411 such centres are run by police stations. We have given money to district administrations, which looks after the operations. They rope in NGOs…” said Singh.
However, activists allege food hasn’t reached everyone. Afsana, a local activist, said she travelled to various panchayats in the Mahuadanr Block of Latehar. Of the 14, only 10 receive food through Didi Kitchen. “In Hami Panchayat, Didi Kitchen food is being served only once a day while there is no food served at Orsi Panchayat. I have requested the BDO to look into it…” she said.
Vivek, an activist of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, said: “Didi Kitchen is functioning across the state, but villages nearer to the panchayat are getting the benefits. The faraway villages are left out.” Jharkhand Chief Secretary Sukhdev Singh said: “Besides these kitchens, we also provide dry ration like beaten rice, jaggery to people in need.”
A survey conducted by Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand–including Development Economist Jean Dreze–in 50 blocks of Jharkhand post the lockdown stated that Dal Bhaat Kendras were operational in 42 blocks, however, most remained “underutilised” as people were unable to move and there was a lack of visibility. It said some still charged money (Rs 5).
On Didi Kitchen, the survey pointed out that some SHG members complained that they had to spend their own money to procure food items as the government fund was “insufficient”.
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