Thankachan works at a timber mill as a daily wage labourer in Konni town in Pathanamthitta district. On days the timber mill doesn’t have work, he looks around for other odd jobs. Usually, even a single day of not finding work hugely impacts the finances at Thankachan’s home, however this time, he was not too worried. “I am a yellow card holder and I have 60 kgs of rice at home, collected over the months from the kits given by the government. I have no reason to worry,” he says.
When the COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown began, the daily wage labourers were the ones who were worst affected. With a complete shut down and no money in hand, many people across the country were worried how they would manage their next meal. That is when the Kerala government came up with the novel idea of distributing food kits to all ration card holders in the state.
There are thousands like Thankachan who didn’t have to starve through the lockdown because of the government’s initiative. Recollecting Thankachan’s words, another resident of Pathanamthitta Jobin says the government’s kits have been a true blessing for the poor. He said, “While the kits are available to all ration card holders, the poor were the ones who really benefitted from the initiative. People didn’t have to go asking for help because of the kit. The quality of the contents of the kit is also very impressive.”
According to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, over 87 lakh families in the state were given the food kits which had essential grocery items needed by a family for a month. On April 10, 2020 the government began distribution of the food kits and on the first day itself they managed to distribute 47,000 food kits in the state. From rice, pulses, oil to masalas and soaps, the food kit with 17 items were well recieved in many parts of the state.
Satheesh Babu (Image Courtesy: Cris)
Satheesh Babu who works at a margin-free market in Karamana, a suburb in Thiruvananthapuram, says that the ration kits have helped many families including his. He had earlier been a BJP supporter but has been voting for the LDF for a while now. "I will vote for the LDF as I have been doing that for the past few years. I don't know how women in the family will vote--while they are happy with the kits, some still find issues with the Sabarimala's women's entry of 2018," he says.
A few blocks away, a non-resident Malayali who had returned home some time ago, runs a bakery on the roadside. He is all praise for the LDF's ration kits and the welfare pension but says that it will not however affect his voting choice. "We have to appreciate the good things done by the government. Even I receive the 1,600-rupee pension the government provides and the free ration kits. But my voting choice is based on certain fundamentals that cannot change. I will vote for the party I have been voting for earlier," he says.
Talking about the pension scheme and the food kits, a member of CPI(M)'s K.U Jenish Kumar’s team, the sitting MLA of Konni constituency in Pathanamthitta said, “These two initiatives have really impressed the people of the state. It ensured no one went to bed hungry during the lockdown and even later.”
In December, it was announced that the government’s food kits would continue to be distributed to all the ration card holders for another four months. While some feel it was keeping the elections in mind that the government took this decision, many others feel with the kind of impact the pandemic has had on jobs and businesses, the kits provided a lot of people the much-needed push to get back to normal life.
Salim, an auto driver in Muzhuppilangadim which falls under Dharmadom constituency in Kannur from where Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan contests also feels the kits have really been of great help. He said, “Distribution of ration kits have been a huge help throughout the pandemic time especially during the lockdown."
Raheem, is another individual who benefitted immensely from the government’s food kit initiative. He has to return from Kuwait in March last year after he lost his job. When he landed back in Kerala leaving behind his job and dreams, the kits helped him survive the tough lockdown period. He now runs a shop in Koduvally under the Thalassery constituency in Kannur.
"My husband died years ago. After the LDF government came to power the pension for widowed women has never been disrupted. Also, the kit actually helped me to pass through the tough time, I have got it for this month too," said Zeenath, who runs a wayside, small eatery shop in Kannur.
The kits have earned the government much goodwill, but some analysts believe that whether this would translate into votes, remains to be seen.
(With inputs from Cris and Saritha S Balan)