On Monday afternoon, Chandrashree, an activist with Sadhana Mahila Sanghatane, was greeted by the sight of hungry children, running out of their shanties, towards her two-wheeler, hoping she had brought food. Chandrashree distributed biscuit packets to the children, who sat down on the road leading to their homes and began eating the biscuits.
Located in Uttarahalli, around 300 migrant workers from north Karnataka live in the slum. With the lockdown in place, the residents had not eaten since the morning of March 28. The last meal they had was puliyogare from Indira Canteens, which was delivered to them by volunteers.
Shanti*, a 31-year-old mother of two children and a resident of the slum in Uttarahalli, says that most families had run out of ration since it was the end of the month. With no shops open in the vicinity, they had been drinking water when they felt hungry.
â€śThe government said that free ration would be delivered. We have been calling the 104 helpline since Saturday (March 28) afternoon. The person who answers tells us food and ration would be delivered soon. But the food did not come. Finally, we called Chandrashree because she has helped us a lot and today she brought us some ration,â€ť Shanti says.
Free food from Indira Canteens not reaching all
Chandrashree, a social worker, spent the last of her salary on the ration she bought for the slum residents in Uttarahalli. She bought 10 kg rice, 5 kg dal and other essentials used to make rice and sambar everyday. â€śThe price of rice has increased. A kilogram is now Rs 100. I work on a meager salary. But I did not want them to go hungry,â€ť Chandrashree says.
The residents of the slum said that the closest Indira Canteen is 4 km away and by the time they walk there, the food packets are usually sold out.
â€śThe canteen people said they only get 200 packets per meal. By the time we go there, the food is over. Besides, one person canâ€™t go to get packets for everyone. We consider it lucky if we are not stopped by the police. What should we do?â€ť questions Ananth*, a 42-year-old daily-wage worker. Ananth worked in a small eatery in Uttarahalli. With the eatery shut, he has also lost his source of income. His wife and three children aged 12, 9 and 6 years, have not had a proper meal since Saturday.
â€śWe are the ones suffering. If this is how itâ€™s going to be, we will surely die before the lockdown ends,â€ť Ananth laments.
Speaking to TNM, Khalemulla, an activist who works with the Swaraj India party, says that the slum residents in Munnekolala and other areas in Whitefield and Varthur also face the same problem. The lack of access to ration and free, packaged food, has left many families hungry.
â€śMany migrant workers wanted to go back home because they knew if they stayed back here, accessing food would become the biggest problem. The government knew that the lockdown was going to happen. They should have been better prepared with the logistics. The poor are going hungry because of mismanagement,â€ť he says.
Situation in Hyderabad grim
Speaking to TNM, Meera Sanghamitra, who works for National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM) says that ever since the lockdown, civil society members and concerned residents were the only ones providing food to residents of the slum and the poor.
â€śWe wrote multiple letters to the Telangana government and finally they announced free food and rations. Annapoorna Canteens is supposed to provide free food but many people are unable to access it,â€ť she points out.
Kiran Vissa, a Telangana state committee member of the Raithu Swarajya Vedika, says that several slum residents in Madhapur near HITEC City and around 800 families in southern Hyderabad have not been able to access free food and ration.
Kiran says that it is not just Hyderabad but several poor residents of a brick kiln in Kodad in Suryapet district have also been struggling for food and ration. â€śThere are 92 families from Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, who live there. They too had ration for two days and now they have nothing. Such groups are all around the state, in Gudihathnoor, Adilabad dsitrict too. There are 20 families from Rajasthan who make sweaters for a living there. They are also facing the same problem,â€ť he adds.
Around 300 migrant labourers from Bihar are currently living in 30 small rooms with around 10 people in each room near HITEC City. The rooms are extremely small and maintaining social distancing is impossible for them. â€śThey worked as construction labourers. They live in a small place. With the lockdown, they have lost their jobs. They are not able to go out to get ration as the rich people in HITEC City are harassing them,â€ť he adds.
Lack of planning and coordination
In several cities in India, the sudden lockdown, announced just hours after the Janata Curfew on March 22, gave the state governments very little time to plan and coordinate the timely disbursement of food to the poor, especially those residing in slums.
â€śThe state governments had begun testing people from the beginning of March. Before announcing the lockdown, the government should have had time to ensure that the poor and those living in slums were going to be taken care of. Since the lockdown was announced abruptly, we did not have time for that. We expect to sort out logistical difficulties in three to four days,â€ť a senior official with the Karnataka Health Department says.
Kiran Vissa maintains, however, that the state governments should have prepared a list of migrant workers, slum residents and the poor so they could avoid the logistical problems that they are currently facing.
â€śThe state governments have shut down schools and colleges. The governments should have taken over certain schools and housed all migrant workers and families there. Slum residents should have been moved to nearby schools. That way they could minimise the drop off points for food and ration. People living in these temporary shelters would have been able to cook for themselves in a common kitchen and sustain themselves,â€ť Kiran adds.
â€śThe problem here is that the closest Annapoorna Canteen is 3 km away for the people in Madhapur. In Secunderabad too, they are faced with the same problem. In southern Hyderabad, 800 families working for a brick kiln have not been able to access food or ration. We contacted the GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) and got food delivered to them for two days. This was two days ago; now once again, they donâ€™t have food,â€ť Kiran says.
Meera and Kiran, who have been working to ensure that the poor do not go hungry, say that the state government would require at least a week to be able to reach all the poor across slums. â€śVolunteers are needed. The government has finally roped in civil society to help and we are hoping to solve the issues as soon as possible,â€ť Meera says.
Karnataka helplines: 9745697456, 080-46848600, 080-66692000 and 104
Tamil Nadu helplines: 04429510500, email: email@example.com
Telangana and Andhra Pradesh helplines: 104 for health, 108 for ambulance and 100 for police
Kerala helplines: 0471-2309250 0471-2309251 0471-2309252