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‘We Eat Roti & Salt’: Delhi’s Most Vulnerable Still Wait for Food

“We have been eating roti (bread) with salt for weeks. There is no work, no money and no food,” Chanda said.

Updated
India
6 min read
It is important to note that the government only issued the notification on providing food to non-ration card holders in the sixth week of lockdown, and the specific date for when it will start in the seventh week.
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“It has been seven weeks into lockdown, obviously no one cares if we are dead or alive,” Babita, a domestic worker, who had some expectations from Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal who said on 18 May that non-ration card holders will also be given food, said.

On 27 May the Delhi government issued a notification for the distribution of ration to people who do not have ration cards through schools, then on 2 June Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the process will start on 5 June.

It is crucial to note that these government measures have come very late. The government only issued the notification on providing food to non-ration card holders in the sixth week of lockdown, and the specific date for when it will start in the seventh week. This has pushed already vulnerable people to borrow money, spend their savings and rely on salt and bread (roti) to fill their stomachs.
“We have been eating roti (bread) with salt for weeks, there is no work, no money and no food,”Chanda said.
“We have been eating roti (bread) with salt for weeks, there is no work, no money and no food,”Chanda said.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Even the measures that have been announced, experts say are ‘grossly inadequate’. Why?

Last year when several more thousands of people went home during lockdown, the government had given food through e-coupons to people twice. According to government data, the people who availed food amounted to 60 lakh which shows the magnitude of people who were food insecure and not covered by PDS. This time around however, when the number of people going home is visibly and anecdotally lesser, the scheme for distribution is only for 2 to 20 lakh people.

We reached out to Delhi government spokespersons but got no response.

Without Food or Work, Women Run into Debt

35-year-old Chanda, came to Delhi from West Bengal’s Malda less than a year ago. “We did not have a proper home there or a proper job, so my husband, kids and I came here. Since this lockdown we have only been eating bread and salt,” she says.

She says she would have gone home as soon as the lockdown started but her relatives are telling her to not come. “As soon as I bring up my condition here and hint at saying I want to return, they all say no,” she said. When asked what she would like to say to the government, she says, “Main kya mangoongi unse? Kya hoti hai sarkaar, kabhi nahi dekha, kabhi unke saath nahi bethe. (What will I ask them? What is the government, I have never seen it, never seen or sat with them.”)

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While Chanda came only after the last lockdown amid the first wave, Babita, Suryabali and Lipika Parveen, all domestic workers who live in the Jagdamba camp area, got food through e-coupons last year. Without the coupons or ration from schools, this time they are unable to cope. They have all borrowed money from their neighbours or relatives, dipped into their savings and are in debt leaving them poorer.
Babita is single-handedly bringing up her five children, three girls and two boys between the age of 17 and 8 and none of them go to school. 
Babita is single-handedly bringing up her five children, three girls and two boys between the age of 17 and 8 and none of them go to school. 
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Babita says the process of getting an Aadhaar card is tedious, “Getting a ration card is not easy, not like those who have ration cards are getting food either.”

She says many people do not own homes but live here on rent. “As a result, they do not have documents to show ownership. Now in the case that they live somewhere on rent, they need to get a no-objection certificate from the landlord and an electricity bill on their name. Many landlords are hesitant in giving these out as they are worried that people will then never leave these homes."

Anjali Bhardwaj from the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, says that this leads to the most vulnerable and marginalised of families, like migrant workers and homeless people, being left out.

Babita is single-handedly bringing up her five children, three girls and two boys between the age of 17 and 8 and has not been able to send any of them go to school and would appreciate all of it being made a little easier for her. "I have asked my brothers for money for rent and food. If they ask me to return it, I won't. I would not have had to borrow as much maybe if I had the government provide food like last time,” she says.

When asked if her employers helped, she said, "No one called and nor will I call them. They cut my pay for not working for the first moment they could."

Parveen was not even paid fully for the work she did before lockdown began.
Parveen was not even paid fully for the work she did before lockdown began.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)
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While Babita’s pay was cut, Parveen was not even completely paid for the days she had worked. Her clients did not pay her the last months salary, even the two weeks she worked. "They said when they come back from her hometown in Dehradun, they will pay us. Why can't she transfer the money?" she asks. She has three children and a husband whose work has stopped as well.

However Parveen is kind and hopes and believes that the government’s promises will come through. She is patiently waiting. In the meanwhile, she goes around looking for work every day. "I go speak to the guards in the colony gates. Ask them if they heard anything and return disappointed," she says.

Suryabali was able to finally apply for a ration card, not through her own papers but her relatives as she does not own a home.

Suryabali has applied for her ration card but thinks it will be years before she gets it.
Suryabali has applied for her ration card but thinks it will be years before she gets it.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

"Applied for a ration card 4-5 months ago, but then lockdown happened. It will take months or maybe even years for my application to be seen,” she said. She says she used to send her child to school to get food, but that also stopped, Worried about the lockdown, when she recently returned from home in Rae Bareily she brought with her 30 kilograms of rice and 5 kilograms of pulses.

"I brought the food from home, where our family members are agricultural labourers, because I do not trust what will happen to us in Delhi,” she says, adding, “Good that I brought the food, we would have starved for seven weeks otherwise.”

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Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan’s Stinging Criticism of Govt Guidelines

While welcoming the government’s measures, the organisation pointed out:

  • In the press conference on 18 May, the CM had announced that the scheme for people without ration cards would be along the same lines as last year. However, last year in addition to rice and wheat, an essential kit consisting of cooking oil, pulses, sugar, salt and masalas was also provided. The guidelines make no mention of these additional essential items.
  • The guidelines do not state when the distribution of grains will start. There has already been an inordinate delay in the announcement of the scheme.
    Note: This date was finally clarified only on 2 June.
  • The guidelines state that in the initial phase of distribution, grains will be provided to two lakh beneficiaries and later as per demand and need assessment from the field, up to the maximum of twenty lakh beneficiaries. This is grossly inadequate.
  • Ration to be distributed under this relief initiative is only a one-time relief measure. Economic distress is long term and does not go away immediately with the lifting of the lockdowns.
  • Finally, we are concerned to note that the guidelines do not have provisions for transparency and grievance redress which are crucial to ensure that grains reach people in need. The Delhi HC had last year given several directions to ensure transparency in distribution of PDS and non PDS grain including uploading of details of distribution on a daily basis. There were also detailed directions regarding oversight and grievance redress and all of these are crucial especially at a time of intense distress.

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