Three weeks after the launch of the hunger helpline (155-214), helpline volunteers have highlighted that several requests have gone unattended.

Hunger helpline inadequate Migrant workers in Bengaluru appeal for food ration
news Coronavirus Sunday, April 19, 2020 - 17:16

A Hunger Helpline (155-214) was set up in Bengaluru on March 28 with the promise of delivering cooked food and groceries to people in need. Three weeks on, problems have cropped up in the working of the helpline system, and activists and helpline volunteers have highlighted that several requests have gone unattended. 

“There are many people who we come across in labour colonies who have not heard of a helpline set up to deliver essentials to them. But when we tried to place a call on their behalf to request materials, there was no response for days,” said a volunteer who is working to distribute materials as part of the hunger helpline’s response team. 

Speaking at the launch, Karnataka Medical Education Minister Dr Sudhakar K had said that the hunger helpline can be used by those in need of ration and cooked food. It was started with the aim of providing over 1.5 lakh meals everyday through six vendors including Wipro, Art of Living, and Admaya Chetana. However, many have been left out of its ambit, say volunteers.  

Unanswered calls

Two helpline volunteers in different areas of the city pointed out that requests for food and ration through the helpline were often unanswered. One such request was placed in the Bommanahalli division of the city. However, the over 130 migrant workers living there, who hail from states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and even north Karnataka districts like Kalaburagi, have not been provided ration for the last three weeks since the lockdown came into effect.  

Bommanahalli Joint Commissioner Ramakrishna admitted that there were people who did not receive ration or food, however, he claimed that they were “not many in number.” 

“But whenever a case is highlighted through the helpline we have set up, or via WhatsApp, we verify how many people are there and provide them with ration,” he said.

A counsel representing the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) also raised the issue with the Karnataka High Court stating that the hunger helpline was not responsive. The High Court bench directed the state government to make the helpline effective immediately. 

No survey of where migrant workers live

Senthil S, a Corona volunteer with the Karnataka government, told TNM that these issues point to loopholes within the civic administration in the city since there has been no detailed survey of areas where migrant workers live.

“If the areas were surveyed previously, then relief materials for workers could be given in a targeted manner. Currently, the last mile delivery of ration is what we are trying to address, and we are dependent on information provided through the helpline,” says Senthil.

Depending on strangers’ kindness

Complaints similar to the one raised in Bommanahalli also surfaced in Koramangala, where migrant workers from Ballari and Hassan said that they were relying on the kindness of strangers to receive food every day. 

Mallikarjuna, a migrant worker who stays in the ST Bed area in Koramangala, said, “Our neighbours are giving us something and we are living off it. We are construction labourers and our work has stopped. There is no ration and we have the people at home to feed,” he says.

He adds that workers in his area are getting desperate since they do not have ration cards, and are hoping that the lockdown is lifted soon so that they can find work. 

Similarly, migrant workers in the Peenya Industrial Area are still waiting for food to be provided to them, a helpline volunteer told TNM. According to the volunteer, the requests raised through the hunger helpline went unanswered.  

Delay in response 

Others reported a delay in the response time of the helpline. A survey compiled by Senthil revealed that construction workers from Bihar were borrowing Rs 200 every day from their house owners in Ejipura to manage expenses during the lockdown. 

“They were struggling for ration and they were borrowing money from their house owner. We did a survey and raised a complaint ticket to the Joint Commissioner, BBMP South. The person handling the helpline redirected me to the disaster management cell, I think this is not usual protocol,” Senthil says. 

Eventually, the construction workers from Bihar received ration and grocery items on April 17, two days after the helpline was approached. The trio received 5 kg of rice, 2 kg of wheat, 1 packet of biscuit, 1 kg of dal, 1 litre of oil, two100 gram masala packets and half kg of sugar.

The cancellation of free food provided through Indira Canteens at the start of April has also burdened the hunger helpline, volunteers say. This is the only means of access to cooked food and grocery for many migrant workers living in Bengaluru who are not being sheltered by their employers. Activists say that even though charitable and non-governmental organisations are also pitching in to provide food and grocery items, the expenses of providing it are piling up and it is the government-run helpline which will be central to relief efforts if the lockdown continues longer. 

“It is becoming difficult for organisations like ours to continue providing groceries at this time. The expenses are piling up but there are people who are asking us to provide kits with grocery items,” says Pramila, who works with Hasiru Dala, a collective which works with waste-pickers.

Read: Uncertainty, boredom and fear: A day in the life of a migrant worker in Bengaluru

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