While the nationwide lockdown enforced to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus has brought a baggage of woes for everyone, the disabled living in a Tripura slum are faced with an uncertainty and no respite in sight.
At least one sixth of 60 families living at the Purba Pratapgarh Ramakrishna Basti in the outskirts of Agartala city consist of members suffering from physical disabilities. Barring one, none has, so far, received any government benefit, including the disabled pension scheme, despite having credentials certifying their physical or mental challenges.
Residents of the slum depend on odd jobs like construction work, daily wage work, vegetable vending, newspaper hawking etc. With the lockdown, all of them are rendered jobless. So, they now depend on donations by good Samaritans to tide over the crisis. Even as the state government has allocated funds for all urban poor and homeless, they say they haven’t received any yet.
The Department of Social Welfare and Social Education of the state government has assured Rs 1,000 as disabled pension.
Nirmal Sarkar, 60, is a daily wager. He lives with his 22-year old son Rajesh Sarkar at a small tin-hut at the slum. Rajesh was born with deformities, which don’t allow him to do anything by himself. His father carries him on his arms, bathes him, attends to his natural calls, feeds him, even keeps the flies off his body.
“I am a senior citizen, my son was born with deformity. Yet, none of us get any social security pension. I work as a daily wager but my meager income of Rs. 4000-5000 a month has stopped since lockdown was imposed. I request the government to please give my son his disability pension”, Sarkar said.
Swapna Rudrapal said her 14-year old son Subhajit Rudrapaul was diagnosed with intellectual disability. Litan Paul, 45, a daily wager said his 12-year old daughter Laxmi Paul was found to have mental disability. Mamata Roy’s son Nayan Roy has birth deformities. Pushpa Sarkar, 50, has her son dealing with mental challenges. Rabindra Ghosh, 75, has a disabled feet.
Every single one of them has credentials from the district disability medical board and yet none of them have any disability pension. Different slums in Agartala are replete with these people. With no money to manage two meals a day, they say treatment is a distant dream.
In lockdown, their problems have only multiplied. Their relatives keep waiting for donors to visit and leave ration packets. Donors come, but few and far between and Agartala city alone has 59 slums in and around it.
Minister for Social Welfare and Social Security Santana Chakma couldn’t be reached for comments on the matter. But Urban Development Director Shailesh Kumar Yadav, who oversees support given to the urban poor at this time, told indianexpress.com that the state government is paying Rs. 1,000 from Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to each of 8,666 identified hawkers, street vendors and others dependent on such odd jobs. 5,179 of them have already received the funds in their bank accounts and the rest are being contacted for bank details, he said.
The official pointed out that the benefit are in addition to two months free ration announced for Antodaya Annapurna Yojana (AAY) and BPL consumers and subsidized ration for APL consumers in the Public Distribution System (PDS). Even those, who don’t have any ration card at all, are supposed to receive 8 Kg rice and some other essentials from concerned SDM offices across Tripura.
As per the government plans, problems like those at Ramakrishna Basti shouldn’t exist.
But these people live in utter crisis. To add to their woes, Bangeshwar Chhara, a small stream adjoining the slum is eating into their homes every year. Riverbank erosion has been continuously pushing them and the idea of social distancing remains a far-fetched idea.