NGOs, volunteers emerge as only hope for Delhi's undocumented people as absence of Aadhaar keeps free ration, hunger relief centres out of reach
There are at least 30 NGOs and over 40 individual volunteers in Delhi who are supplying food during COVID-19 lockdown to people without any valid documentation and living on the footpaths, jhuggi jhopdis and verandahs of commercial complexes
Every morning Arun Tank steps out of his home in Kashmere Gate equipped with hand gloves, face mask, sanitiser and hand wash. He waits for a vehicle carrying cooked food packets to arrive. Arun then reaches out to nearby localities and distributes food among them.
This has been his routine since the Government of India announced nationwide lockdown on 25 March.
"Every day, we distribute food twice to the people living on the footpaths, jhuggi jhopdiss and verandahs of commercial complexes. Three thousand packets of cooked food are distributed each time," says the 38-year-old businessman, who works as a volunteer in the Delhi government's food distribution scheme for workers left jobless by the lockdown.
There are at least 40 individual volunteers like Tank across Delhi, who work as a local guide for the cooked food distribution system run by the government for those who lack any valid documentation. The government had selected them through social media.
Kashmere Gate where Tank operates is also one of the places in Delhi where waste pickers are found in abundant numbers. As the lockdown brought the economy to a grinding halt, waste pickers who earned daily living by selling recyclable waste are now without any work.
Illyas, a waste picker living near Bhalaswa landfill used to earn Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 a month by selling recyclable items.
"I used to go home to home collecting waste with my tricycle. The recyclable waste would be sorted out from the garbage collected and sold out to the godowns every day. But after the lockdown police did not allow us to get out of our homes. Even if we collected waste, there is none to buy them as the godowns doing the buying are now closed," he says.
Though the Delhi government is running food distribution schemes during the lockdown for migrant workers, many waste pickers are struggling to get a packet of food for their families.
Soon after the lockdown was announced Illyas feared that his family with five members would die in hunger, but fortunately ‘Chintan’, a a policy and advocacy group, reached out to them with groceries that were enough for his family to survive the lockdown.
“We have distributed one month’s grocery to 1,500 waste picker families across Delhi NCR. The number of beneficiaries under this scheme should not be less than 7,000. We collect food items from various donors and distribute them among the ragpickers,” said Chitra Mukherjee, head of advocacy an policy in Chintan.
Reaching the undocumented
The Government of Delhi is running three parallel food distribution chains for migrant workers across the National Capital. Since most of the waste pickers in Delhi either live in rented jhuggis jhopdis or are homeless, they qualify for this programme. But due to lack of adequate documentation and logistical bottlenecks, waste pickers have been deprived of availing help under these programmes.
The first food distribution chain is certainly the Hunger Relief Centres opened across the city. The second chain is that of Grocery Distribution Centres opened for migrant workers with Aadhaar Cards but with no Ration Cards. The third chain is made up of NGOs who distribute cooked food to migrant workers in various localities. Individual volunteers like Tank are also part of this group.
Nearly 1,500 schools were turned into Hunger Relief Centres soon after the lockdown was announced. The organisations which were earlier cooking mid-day meals in these schools were given the responsibility to cook and serve lunch and dinner for the poor in the same premises.
“The hunger relief centres serve lunch in the afternoon and dinner from 6 pm to 9 pm. These centres cater to at least 700 persons per meal. Anyone who is hungry can avail a meal in these centres,” said a Delhi government official. The food which is served in these centres normally include rice and Dal, rice and gram curry.
As per a source in the Government of Delhi, the state government spends Rs 5 crore per day in running these food delivery centres.
The Hunger Relief Centres are administered by the concerned Sub Divisional Magistrates of the locality and the whole administrative machinery is engaged in estimating the dynamics of these centres.
But Wasim Akram, a supervisor in Chintan told Firstpost that though there are a good number of Hunger Relief Centres, many areas still remain uncovered due to logistical reasons and Bhalaswa is one of those areas. So, the waste pickers in the area are still having a hard time in getting cooked food.
Interestingly, to fill this lacunae, the Delhi government came up with grocery distribution centres where any person with Aadhaar card is provided with wheat and rice.
As per a press communique, issued by the Food and Civil Supplies department, till Thursday nearly 3 lakh people have been provided with four kilogrammes of wheat and one Kilogramme of rice each under this scheme in 374 distribution centres.
But, the system of distributing free ration has also its own limitations. It can only be availed by the people who have Aadhaar card. A good number of waste pickers do not have any kind of documentation.
“Many waste pickers do not have a home address, and as a result they do not get Aadhaar card and cannot avail any benefit from this scheme,” says Akram.
There are at least 30 NGOs and over 40 individual volunteers in the National Capital who are supplying food to people without any valid documentation.
“The people who cannot be reached out by the other two schemes are being reached out by NGOs and volunteers. The Delhi government reaches 40,000 people through this network,” says Abhinandita Mathur, an advisor to the Government of Delhi.
Besides Chintatn, at least 30 other NGOs such as Khalsa Aid, Sewa Bharat, Diversified Intervention for Youth Awareness, etc, are working in pockets like Molla Colony and Rangpuri Pahari, where the other schemes are not operational.
But despite all efforts, NGOs and volunteers are struggling to meet the demand for cooked food.
Sharique Firdausia, a volunteer who distributes 5,000 packets of cooked food daily told Firstpost that he receives nearly 50 percent of these packets from the Delhi government. The rest has to be collected from various donors.
Similarly, Chintan is trying to reach 35,000 waste pickers by raising donations.
Why the waste pickers matter
India is considered as the fastest growing market of recyclable products, given the rising levels of awareness among masses to segregate waste at source.
There is hardly any estimate about how many waste pickers live in the commercial area of Kashmere Gate, but the recycling industry of that area thrives on the collections made by them.
“They collect reusable objects from the dumping grounds and sell them to the godowns who in turn sell them to industries which re-cycle them,” says Amar Doshi, another businessman in the area.
Mukherjee informs that Delhi generates 14,000 metric tonnes of waste daily.
"Nearly 25 percent of this mound of garbage is recyclable. Waste pickers collect this garbage and ensure that not all the waste reaches the dumping ground. This helps maintaining the ecological balance apart from providing raw materials to the recycling industry,” adds Mukherjee.
According to some estimates, Delhi has nearly 50,000 waste pickers who form the backbone of the National Capital’s thriving recycle industry.
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