FM says three meals a day being provided to urban homeless people, but plight of migrant workers under lockdown shows food security is a far cry
Several recent reports have shown that with work drying up, inadequate food has been a major concern for most of the urban poor.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, listing out welfare measures taken till now to tide over the COVID-19 crisis, said on Thursday that three meals per day are being provided to urban homeless people at the Centre's cost.
The Centre has announced that "hygienically prepared three meals a day have been provided for the residents of Shelters for Urban Homeless during the lockdown with effect from 28 March."
Nevertheless, several recent reports have shown that with work drying up in mega cities, inadequate food has been a major concern for most of the urban poor, which majorly comprises of migrant labourers.
This includes both homeless people and those living in the slums. For example, a Firstpost article quoted a carpenter in Mumbai, Ramodar, as saying that his impoverished parents in Uttar Pradesh had to send him money so that he would not go hungry. Another migrant from Uttar Pradesh, Anup Kumar, was quoted as saying that he was eager to go home, and of the key reasons for this was that he would not have to depend on anyone else for food.
Homeless people are the hardest hit by the lockdown in India which has entered its fourth phase. For example, The Times of India quoted a homeless man in Panaji, Ramesh Rivonkar, as saying that he used to beg for food and would often get leftovers of customers leaving restaurants. Now, with restaurants downing their shutters, he is left without both food and shelter.
On Thursday, video footage from Bihar's Katihar showed people at a railway station fighting over a food packet that one of them was carrying. Thus, notwithstanding the Centre's assertions, it is clear that the coronavirus lockdown has already severely affected food security for the poor.
Even where food is being provided, the concerns over its quality remain. For instance, a journalist recently shared a video showing poor quality rice being distributed to migrant workers in Dakshina Kannada district.
— Imran Khan (@keypadguerilla) May 14, 2020
Indeed, many people on Twitter also questioned why a large number of the urban poor are fleeing big cities, and there are reports of people fighting over food packets, if they are being provided three meals a day.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman: Central Govt is providing three meals daily for those in shelters for urban homeless.
So crores of the migrant workers walking to their homes starving doing that to malign the image of the govt? At whose behest? ISI? #AatmanirbharBharatPackage https://t.co/tzAr3cOvN5
— Samar (@Samar_Anarya) May 14, 2020
— Caralisa Monteiro (@runcaralisarun) May 14, 2020
Also, significantly, providing food alone is not enough to assuage the concerns of the urban poor. According to the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN), 64 percent of stranded migrant workers have less than Rs 100 with them, and 78 percent of them had less than Rs 300 with them. Further, 97 percent did not get any cash transfer from the government.
This shows that along with food, much work needs to be done towards ensuring income security for the urban poor.
Meanwhile, the Centre has also announced some other measures on Thursday for food security of migrants. It has announced that migrants who are neither beneficiaries of the state ration card where they are presently living or the National Food Security Act will be provided 5 kilograms of grains per person and 1 kilogram of chana per family per month for two months. The total cost for this measure, amounting to about Rs 3,500 crore, will be borne by the Centre.
While these announcements made by Sitharaman are welcome interventions, going by the present situation, it appears that ensuring food security for all urban homeless people is a far cry.
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