Not once in its 90-year existence did Ludhiana’s Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib run out of wheat flour for its langar kitchen. But as it serves over 10,000 meals daily amid the lockdown, the gurdwara is running short of wheat supplies to keep serving parshadas (rotis) to those who turn up for langar and those who look forward to packed meals from its langar kitchen in these unprecedented times due to coronavirus.
It is also for the first time in four decades that the gurdwara management has sought help from the government to meet the need for supplies to its kitchen. But while people — migrants, daily-wagers and the homeless — continue to show up, Punjab government’s Department of Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs is yet to respond to gurdwara management’s request for wheat bags. In the meantime, the management has arranged few tonnes of wheat, but it fears that the stock won’t last long given the surge in demand for langar during lockdown.
Apart from serving langar at the gurdwara, food packets are being supplied by the shrine 24×7.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Prithpal Singh (65), president, Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, said: “Langar is the most valuable element of our Punjabi culture and Sikhism. People and faiths across the globe admire us for langar because in Punjab no one sleeps empty-stomach. Our langar kitchen has been serving 10,000 meals a day at least since always, and now after the curfew, even as the people coming to langar hall has decreased, the demand for packed meals is increasing.”
He added: “We are supplying at least 6,000 meals of packed food a day (twice a day) and then another 5,000 meals (twice a day) are being served to homeless and poor people, mostly migrants, who are still coming to have food. It was for the first time that we ran short of wheat and we approached the food supplies minister. But they have failed to deliver wheat bags. It was disappointing as well as heartbreaking.”
Gurdwara president said that they are ready to supply double the capacity of food packets, but for that they need wheat. “I personally called Food Supplies Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu and asked for help apprising him of entire situation. We have always paid and bought grocery for langar. Even now we were ready to pay to government also but the department did not deliver us wheat bags. At last, we have arranged some stock on our own through arthiyas (commission agents) but we do not know how long it will last,” he said.
Temporarily, the gurdwara has now arranged 23 tonnes of wheat from arthiyas paying Rs 21,085 per tonne but seeing that demand for meals has been increasing with 2-2.5 tonnes being consumed each day, it might last for next 7-10 days or less.
“It all depends on how many food packets are delivered apart from sangat still visiting langar hall. At least 5,000 (twice a day) are still coming to gurdwara to have food, mostly daily wagers and migrants. We cannot deny food to anyone. We are also supplying food to temples and mosques. Assi ajj tak kisi aggey hath ni failaaya, sarkar agge vi ni (We have never begged for anything from government or otherwise) but if langar kitchen is expected to deliver cooked food, we need raw material for that. We are even ready to pay for it but the department failed to arrange wheat for us on priority. We did it on our own,” said Prithpal Singh. He added that there was enough stock for dal (pulses) and vegetables are being brought on daily basis but all they need is wheat flour.
“This situation would have been avoided had our wheat crop on 40 acres of land owned by gurdwara hadn’t been damaged due to untimely rains or if some time was given to prepare for curfew instead of sudden announcement,” he said.
The kitchen at gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, among the largest in Punjab, serves meals (dal, roti and veggtables) to at least 10,000 persons apart from tea-snacks langar (once a day). The kitchen has capacity to produce 4,500 rotis in an hour. “We can arrange another roti making machine and double up the capacity. But we need at least 30 tonnes of wheat more for lockdown till April 14….People are coming to ask for food packets. Today also food was supplied in Haibowal and Dugri areas,” said Pithpal Singh, who has been a sewadar at the gurdwara for over 34 years.
When contacted, Arvinder Sandhu, Inspector, Food & Civil Supplies Department, said: “There were some issues such as transportation and scarcity of wheat and we have informed higher officials about wheat shortage being faced by gurdwara. District Food Supplies Controller will be the right person to comment on it.”
Sukhwinder Singh Gill, District Food Supplies Controller, said that wheat stock lying with them belongs to central government and for that they have to get permission from Food Corporation of India (FCI) to supply it to the gurdwara. “We cannot issue wheat bags to anyone without FCI’s permission. We will try solving issue on Monday and gurdwara can buy wheat from us for Rs 20,080 per tonne,” he said.
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