‘Apathy, Chaos, Fear’: Weeks Into Lockdown, Delhi Waits for Ration

36% of Delhi’s population is therefore buying food at higher costs and budgeting food so they do not have to starve.

8 min read
‘Apathy, Chaos, Fear’: Weeks Into Lockdown, Delhi Waits for Ration

Almost a month after the lockdown was announced in Delhi on 17 April, the Delhi government has not yet distributed ration meant for the month of May to 72 lakh persons covered under the PDS (Public Distribution System), who account for 37 percent of the total population of the capital.

"The Chief Minister had appealed and asked us to stay when the initial lockdown was announced right? It has been two weeks of almost a month now, what are they waiting for? If you could not assure us food, why did you ask us to stay?" most of the people this reporter met in South Delhi's Jagdamba Camp area said.

One of the homes in Jagdamba camp, which is generally known to be an area that voted the Aam Aadmi Party the locals say.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)
“There is no work right now, does the government not know this? Of course they do. They order lockdowns after lockdowns, they know we will run out of money. Despite that, they wait for weeks before announcing any measures. Despite that, they wait for people to point out the flaws before running into action. We are not saying we are against lockdowns but how can you do that without thinking about our well-being again and again and again. Gareeb aadmi ka bhi socho (think about the poor man also).”
44-year-old Devina Begum.

The story covers the following concerns:

  • Chaos on Ground Zero
  • View of Ration Card holders
  • View of Ration Shop Owners
  • Criticism by Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan

The Quint reached out to the office of commissioner of food supplies department, the joint commissioner’s office, the Minister of Food Supplies office along with two spokespersons of the AAP government and none of them responded to our queries.

We asked them:

  • When will the distribution begin?
  • Why there was a delay?

Chaos on Ground Zero: Conflicting Announcements and Orders by Govt

These fears have compounded amid confusion as well. Firstly Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced five kilograms of free ration (wheat and rice) for the poor for the month of May and June under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana on 23 April. Then on 4 May, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that all ration card holders were to get free ration. This would cover approximately 72 lakh people in the capital.

Despite the announcement by the PM and CM of giving free ration to the people of Delhi, the Delhi government issued an order on 10 May that caused more fear and confusion. The order, accessed by The Quint, states that money will be taken from ration card holders. This order was then rescinded on 11 May. Till the time the story was published the government had not issued any new order.

Devina Begum is currently living off the Rs 2,000 she charges a tenant for renting a room.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Speaking about the confusing and contradictory orders the Delhi government passed, Anjali Bhardwaj, from the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, said this was no way to function during a pandemic.

“Delhi government issued an order on the 10th stating that people will have to pay for rations. This is at odds with the announcement made by the CM that ration would be provided free of cost for 2 months. Further, the central government, under the PMGKAY scheme, has announced 5 kgs extra ration free of cost per person for those with ration cards for 2 months. However, the order made absolutely no mention of when the PMGKAY grains will be distributed. At this time of difficulty, the least that is expected is clear communication about ration distribution — when will it be provided, how much, will it be free, what will be the distribution protocol given the raging pandemic. Instead, the government first issued this order and then subsequently withdrew it the next day, leading to complete chaos and misinformation on the ground.”
Anjali Bhardwaj.

Miscommunication or not, she says the grains are yet to be distributed.

"We are on the 12th of the month, the distribution of grain for May has not begun. At a time of such intense crisis, government should have ensured distribution of grains within the first 2 days of the month," she said.

Ration Card Holders: ‘We Are Being Treated Like We Do Not Matter’

The delay has contributed to fear in vulnerable groups like residents of slums, daily wagers, informal sector workers, domestic workers and others who have a hand-to-mouth existence. They have had to loan money from their relatives, neighbours, and friends, buy food at eight times the price in the open market, and budget the number of servings they are eating.

Susila (in the picture above) is 62, has 6 children of whom only one has a job, but even he is not being called into work for the last three weeks in Delhi.

"We have not got our grains for this month. This is very scary. Now you see our situation. Only one person in this home of seven people makes money. His salary has reduced from Rs 6,000 to Rs 4,000 last month. Now we have rent to pay which is Rs 3,000 every month and above that we need food to survive. Rather than getting our food from the ration stores such as Rs 2 for wheat, we are paying about eight times the amount in the open market. All our budgeting has gone down the drain," her son Sooraj says.

Sooraj says because of all this the people at his home are eating lesser. 
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Regarding the order that said they would be charged for food, Sooraj added, "To add to that the government said they will make it free and then they are issuing orders saying they will take money. What are they doing? Say one thing and stick to it. Are we so invisible that you can make headlines saying you will give us free food, then charge us, and no one will be bothered?"

He says as a consequence they are all eating lesser. "We do not eat to fill our stomachs, we are worried that there will be days where we won't have anything left so we ration our food,” Sooraj says.

Sooraj says that sometimes people get so competitive about the grains that they do not even get to know if ration stores have food. "Now the deal is if there is a delay for a few days and you go back to the shop. They will not give you food anymore,” he said.

Devina says as the money is drying at home, her son has started stepping out again, against the fear of contracting COVID, to find work at the labour chowks. With desperation, she says, "The minimum we need to survive is food, give us that?" she asks.

Mustafa is telling his grandkids that he won’t be able to give them new clothes for the upcoming Eid.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

48-year-old Mustafa, who is observing Ramzan with his family, has said there are no gifts for Eid this year. "By this time we have bought new clothes for everyone, especially the kids. Kids do not understand all this, I have four grandkids. I am telling them to wait for Bakr Eid in a few months and then I will buy them clothes," he says adding, "jhooti tasalli deni padhi hai (we have to give false hope.)"

He works as a tailor and has not got work for a month. “People are hesitant to step out to get clothes stitched. It is not a necessity,” he said.


Ration Shop Owners: 'We Can Only Distribute When We Have Food Grains'

To add to the concerns, ration shop owners who wanted to remain unidentified have said even if distribution was to begin, they would not be able to do is as they do not have the ration yet.

One of the ration stores notice board states that as of 12 May they do not have any wheat and sugar to distribute.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

"We have not even got all the grains yet. I have got only rice but no wheat yet. First, the government has to ensure I have the grains and only then can I start distributing right?"

Another ration shop worker, who serves the people of Jagdamba camp, said that he only had half the grains and half the wheat needed for distribution.

36 percent of Delhi’s population is therefore buying food at higher costs and budgeting it at home so they do not have to starve.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

The confusion regarding the order means that they do not know yet if they should charge for food grains or not.

"First PM Modi and CM Arvind Kejriwal said that they will give people ration free of cost. Then after all those big announcements, the Delhi government issued an order on 10 May where they asked us to take money from the people for ration. There was obviously confusion and concern. The next day then the order was canceled. Now they are figuring out what to do," a worker said on the condition of anonymity.

The ration shop workers are also concerned about their safety. While giving ration out they have to see the ration card and take down two signatures of the people, on a chit and then in a diary. "We cannot be taking the signature. Humein apni jaan pyaari hai (we are worried about our lives) and as you know COVID has spread in the bastis unlike last time."

Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan: 'Registered Over 15,000 SOS Calls Over Few Days'

Ashok Kumar, who is a community mobilisation leader in the area, says this has hurt those people the most who trusted the government and stayed back. “There are 350 ration card holders in the area, which is 400 homes. What they are facing the people across Delhi are,” he says.

He says people are asking for some money here and there, they come asking him for help too. “We have gone to around 150 ration shops in Delhi and I can say the distribution has not begun anywhere yet,” he says.

Bhardwaj says that they have got over 15000 SOS calls from workers across the city in a few days.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Bhardwaj says that the crisis across Delhi is actually much worse.

"The working poor are in a very, very precarious state. Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, along with other groups, is responding to SOS calls and in just the last few days we have registered over 15,000 SOS calls," she says.

These concerns of food are not new as the same issues had come up last year as well.

"Announcing lockdowns without relief for the economically vulnerable is inhumane and smacks of a clear disconnect between government planning and people’s lived reality. Is the delay criminal? Yes, it is. I'm not on legalese here, but who will be responsible if there are hunger and starvation deaths as the economic situation of people worsens under lockdown?" she concludes.

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