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Hunger, food insecurity galore among Delhi's working poor, public hearing told


By Our Representative

A public hearing, organised by the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA) to highlight the crisis of food insecurity and hunger among the working poor and marginalised communities in India’s national capital, highlighted how economic distress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the inadequate response by the government, resulted in people being unable to find adequate work to be able to afford food.
People from across Delhi, slum dwellers, daily wagers, construction workers, homeless, widows, and physically challenged persons joined the hearing, testifying now about the problems being faced by them. Testimonies by many of them suggested that the situation of those who do not possess a ration card and are not covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) is especially precarious, as there is no programme or scheme of the government to provide any ration to them.
Chanchal, a resident of the Lal Gumbad Camp in South Delhi, said, before the lockdown, her husband was working as daily wage labourer, and she was working as domestic help. During the lockdown both of them lost their job, and for several months were not earning anything. The family, which includes three children, does not have a ration card.
The food intake of the family was severely impacted. It could not even afford milk for tea. Before the lockdown, all the three children used to go to school, where they would have mid-day meal. However, after the closure of schools in March, the midday meal was discontinued. The government is providing money in lieu of food, though the amount is extremely inadequate and payments erratic.
Referring to the Delhi government provision of paying food security allowance at the rate of Rs 78 per child at the upper level and Rs 94.60 per child the primary level, Chanchal said the two older children received Rs 78 in only for July, while the youngest one did not receive anything. While she found work recently, she earns just Rs 3,000 per month.
Rani, 62, a resident of Jagdamba camp, is a widow and takes care of her two grandchildren following her son’s death. She does not have a ration card and used to work as domestic help before the lockdown. Since March she is out of work on account of Covid. In mid-July her grandson, 14, began working as a rickshaw puller. Currently, he is working as a domestic help and earns Rs 2,000 in a month.
Soni is a resident of a slum camp and has five children. Her family does not possess a ration card. Before the lockdown, she used to work as a domestic help and her husband used to work as a delivery person in a shop. Together the two of them could earn around Rs 15,000. However, both of them have been out of work since the lockdown.
Due to rising Covid cases, Soni said, no one was ready to employ her. Her husband has also not been able to find work. The family does not have a ration card. During the lockdown, she applied for an e-coupon and received ration only once. The family lives a rented shanty for Rs 3,500 and is dependent for money and rations on her relatives and neighbours. They have an accumulated debt of Rs 15,000. Soni’s son, who studies in Class 11, has had to start work, and earns Rs 5,000. Right now, he is the only earning member in the family.
The government provided ration on the basis of temporary e-coupon scheme. It was provided for two months, and then discontinued
Pooja, who lives in a homeless shelter near Connaught Place, Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, said, when she went to apply for a ration card, the food department refused to take her application as they insisted that she get an electricity bill, even though she explained she was a homeless.
Transgender persons from Jahangirpuri, Reshma, Maharab and Reena, said, all the avenues of traditional earnings have got restricted and people in residential colonies would not allow them to visit their houses, including on occasions of weddings or births. None of them have ration cards.
The testimonies were proof that following the lockdown in March 2020, lakhs of people lost all their income. DRRAA filed a petition in the Delhi High Court regarding ensuring food security to people who did not have ration card. During the course of hearings, the Court gave the direction to secure peoples’ right to food and ensure that no one goes hungry to bed in Delhi.
Pursuant to these directions, the government provided ration to people on the basis of temporary e-coupon scheme. It received tens of thousands of applications for e-coupons from people who did not possess ration cards. However, ration was provided only for two months and then discontinued. 
The government claims, as travel restrictions have been eased, migrant workers have left Delhi and, therefore, there was no need to continue the scheme. Even free hot cooked meal through schools and shelters has been discontinued.
Among those who attended the public hearing included Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) chief engineer Sanjay Kumar Mahajan, development economist Jean Dreze, journalist Pamela Philipose, Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Parikh, apart from activists Biraj Patnaik Anjali Bhardwaj, Annie Raja and Dipa Sinha.
A communique issued following the hearing demanded that the Delhi and Central governments immediately launch a programmes to provide rations to all those who need it irrespective of whether they possess a ration card. A ‘Covid Ration Card’ must be issued to all people and 10 kg of grains, pulses, edible oil should be provided till the time the Disaster Management Act is enforce and there is economic distress.
Further, DRRAA said, the midday meal scheme should be immediately properly implemented. In lieu of hot cooked food, dry grains along with eggs and fruits should be provided to all children. Essential anganwadi services, including hot cooked meal for pregnant women, should be restored. It added, to ensure that the NFSA is followed in letter and spirit, a Food Commission should be set be set up to undertake social audit of the law.
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Click here and here to watch videos of DRRAA public hearing

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