‘I have many skills, but haven’t got a job since last lockdown’: At Delhi’s ration lines, the desperation is palpable

Roughly 60 people had lined up on Saturday outside government schools with their Aadhaar card and panni (polythene bags) to collect ration. As many as 280 schools across the city had been identified for distribution of food to people who don’t have a ration card.

When he was in Class VI, Bunty Rajput lost his father, forcing him to drop out of MCD Primary School in Idgah Road and earn for his family. On Saturday, Bunty, now 34, found himself in a queue outside the same school, waiting for ration being distributed by the state government.

He cited two reasons for not being employed: The current lockdown and the fact that he had to leave school at a young age and can’t read or write properly.

Bunty was among roughly 60 people who had lined up on Saturday outside government schools with their Aadhaar card and panni (polythene bags) to collect ration. As many as 280 schools across the city had been identified for distribution of food to people who don’t have a ration card.

Over the years, Bunty has held odd jobs such as painting walls and driving trucks. He also worked at a stock-keeping unit at a mall, from where he was promoted to salesman. “I have many skills. But somehow, ever since I lost my job at the mall during the lockdown last year, I have not managed to get a steady job,” said Bunty, who has no means of income but has to sustain himself and his mother with their savings.

“My old teacher is now the principal. I am glad that I can at least get ration from here,” he said outside the school. After registering, he collected dry ration for three members of his family – 3 kg of rice and 12 kg of wheat. Each person is entitled to 1 kg of rice and 4 kg of wheat.

The school had received 49 bags of wheat and 14 bags of rice, each weighing 50 kg. The administration said they will be able to provide ration to 200 families every day.

Imran Hussain, Delhi’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister, said the AAP government has procured the best quality foodgrains from FCI. Ration will be distributed every day, barring Sundays, from 10 am to 4 pm.

However, many migrant workers complained they could not register because the address on their Aadhaar card is of their hometown. Ram Vilas (40), who used to work as a rickshaw driver before the lockdown, was among them. His wife and children are in Uttar Pradesh while he works here and sends money home. “I am stuck here just like the previous lockdown… but this time, I am not even getting ration,” he said.

The school administration said they are unable to feed PIN codes from outside Delhi on the Janta Samvad portal and had to, therefore, turn a few people away. The rest managed to get registered using their Aadhaar card and phone number, or any other ID card which had address proof.

Vimla (60), a resident of Sadar Bazaar, worried if there was a problem with her Aadhaar card. She said, “The administration told me to wait until I get a message on my phone. I still haven’t so far… I guess I will not get ration.” She was using her son’s phone and did not know how to read messages. After waiting for over five hours, she tried one last time. Officials checked her phone and realised the storage was full. They helped her delete a few messages, after which she finally got the message and heaved a sigh of relief.

At MCD Primary School, Block 16 in Trilokpuri, Pooja (36) was the first to collect ration for her family of five at 1 pm. The school received 1,800 kg of wheat and 700 kg of rice. Pooja used to work as a domestic help before the lockdown. “I often skip meals to feed the children. My husband and

I are unemployed, so we cannot provide them with regular meals,” she said. After she collected the ration in bags, she used a rope to tie it tightly so she could carry it home, which was half an hour away, on foot.

Aashu (48), who collected ration for her family and her neighbour’s family, tied the bags containing 30 kg of foodgrain in a similar manner. She, too, would have to walk for 20 minutes to reach home. A rickshaw would cost Rs 30. “Itne mein shaam ki sabzi ho jayegi (I can afford vegetables for the evening in that much),” she said.

Ever since the lockdown was implemented, several migrant workers as well as those who have lost jobs said they had been surviving on cooked food provided at some schools, cutting down on meals, or taking loans from people.

At a few schools across the city, people were turned away since officials said ration has not reached or that they were not prepared. At some, beneficiaries were asked to undergo compulsory Covid-19 testing before they could collect ration.

A woman from Chirag Delhi, who did not wish to be named, said, “When I went to the SDMC school at Chirag Delhi, we were stopped and asked to get tested at a camp that had been set up. There were around 100 people.” She and the others were asked to return with their test reports on Monday, only after which they would get ration.

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