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COVID-19 lockdown: Thousands of migrants going hungry due to food supply shortage

Last Updated : 03 April 2020, 06:49 IST
Last Updated : 03 April 2020, 06:49 IST
Last Updated : 03 April 2020, 06:49 IST
Last Updated : 03 April 2020, 06:49 IST

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Although municipal authorities are mobilising tons of food supplies to feed 85,000 migrant workers stranded in the city because of the COVID-19 lockdown, a shortfall in supplies means thousands of people are going hungry.

A survey by the Department of Labour has determined that these migrants are staying at 439 locations across the city (many of them at construction sites). The BBMP has asked for further verification of these numbers and sites.

“We have issued directions to the zonal joint commissioners asking for physical verification and identify the numbers and locations because there is a chance of movement of people,” a BBMP official said.

He pointed out the challenges of feeding the 85,000 migrants as indicated by the Labour Department. “Feeding these people three square meals a day means 2,55,000 meals are required per day to feed all identified construction labourers in the city,” he said.

Currently, the Department of Labour said it is doling out nearly one lakh meals per day (in two servings - lunch and dinner, but no breakfast), while the BBMP said that it has been doling out 40,000 meals per day for the last two days. This has been augmented by 16 NGOs working in cooperation with the Palike, who are handing out an additional 48,000 to 52,000 meals per day.

“This leaves a deficit of 63,000 meals per day,” the BBMP official said.

While the official acknowledged the role played in bridging the gap by on-the-fly groups of volunteers who have been dishing out food without Palike’s approval since the shutdown began, he added there was no accounting of how many such meals were going to construction workers and their families.

“The BBMP also cannot verify the conditions of the kitchens where such food is being prepared,” the official added.

Anger among civil activists

For civil NGOs who have been dispensing food to migrants and other needy people, the slowness of the bureaucratic machinery has elicited fury.

Dr Sylvia Karpagam, who, with a network of social activists has been trying to supply rice, vegetables and dal powder to migrants, said that the crisis of hunger shows that the government has not taken any responsibility for the hardships caused by the lockdown.

“The rationale of the lockdown is only intended to buy the government enough time to deal with a pandemic it was not prepared for. There has been no plan to ensure that people are not deprived of essentials,” she said.

Not all are construction workers

An Indian Institute of Science faculty member, Subankar Chakraborty who is also the general secretary of the NGO, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samithi, said his group has been cooperating with the BBMP to identify and feed migrant groups said that it was not just construction workers affected by the crisis.

“Over the last five days, we have identified 3,000 people who require food supplies. Not all are construction workers. For example there are jewellry workers from Bengal in Cottonpet, cleaners in Kundalahalli, tailors from Bihar in Badidi. The list goes on,” he said.

The BBMP said it and the Department of Labour were procuring one lakh bags of dry foods containing 12 kg of rice with curry powders.

“These rations bags are meant to sustain one person for 21 days. We are hoping they will tide people over the next few weeks,” an official said, adding however, that the BBMP had not yet begun to supply these rations.

Migrants scupper BBMPs choultry plans

The first inkling that BBMP officials had of a growing unease among migrant populations was when nearly 1,000 men, women and children attempted to walk out of the city and return to their home villages across India on the night of March 30.

They were rapidly scooped up by police near Mile 8 on Tumkuru Road and held at the State Labour Training Institute at Bagalkunte. This proved short-lived, according to DCP North, N Shashikumar.

"It was a health hazard holding a thousand people in close proximity, so it was decided to release them to various locations," Shashikumar said.

The BBMP said that it requisitioned 241 choultries (convention or wedding halls) across the city with the intention of holding all stranded labourers.

“However, the labourers did not want to stay in these buildings. Instead, they wanted to return to their construction sites, where we are now trying to feed them,” a BBMP official said.

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Published 03 April 2020, 06:49 IST

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