For migrant workers without ration cards, a food crisis looms

With no work, wages and ration cards to access subsidised foodgrain, activists and organisations providing free food have had to step in to stall the impending crisis for lakhs of the urban poor.

Even as fair price shops turned away thousands seeking the much-awaited 5 kg of free rice on Wednesday, it was the lakhs of migrant workers in Mumbai, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad and in other industrial pockets around Mumbai who are facing an acute food crisis that is growing everyday.

With no work, wages and ration cards to access subsidised foodgrain, activists and organisations providing free food have had to step in to stall the impending crisis for lakhs of the urban poor.

Sanjay Singh (45) lives in a single room with nine others in Santosh Nagar, Goregaon. Together, they pay Rs 10,000 as rent. While they are not being evicted just yet by the landlord, they have run out of money to buy rations, prompting Sanjay to make frantic calls to activists through the past two days. “We were given khichdi by a charitable organisation yesterday and today, but what we really need is rations so that we can buy our provisions as usual and cook our meals,” the unskilled labourer from Araria in Bihar told The Indian Express.

The Santosh Nagar area has about 60 men in the same dilemma, all ‘naka workers’ or construction labourers, called thus on account of their morning wait at traffic junctions or nakas for contractors to pick them up. Wednesday was Sanjay’s 12th day without work. “Whatever cash we had is over,” he said over phone. Follow LIVE Coronavirus Latest Updates

In Kherwadi in Bandra, about 400 workers have been living for the past few days entirely on charity.

There are very similar accounts emerging from elsewhere in Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, which accounts for the large majority of the Konkan region’s 1.09 lakh registered construction workers. The large majority of construction workers, however, is unregistered.

“Nobody knows how to access government aid for migrant workers. For non-card holders, a form was first circulated and we thought this would estimate the demand based on which supply would be available in the fair price shops, but there is actually no clarity on what is being done,” said Shweta Damle of the Habitat and Livelihood Welfare Association. The form was later found to be a fake forward.

In Navi Mumbai, in an area stretching from Khopoli to Airoli, activist Vinita Balekundri is in touch with at least 300 migrant workers who have lost their livelihood in the past 12 to 15 days. “Calls to the nodal officers assigned have not actually helped,” she said.

The state government appointed deputy collectors as nodal officers for every municipality ward or taluka for workers seeking relief material to approach. The Delhi and Telangana governments have begun to provide free rations, including for those without ration cards, said activists.

Shweta said another worrying matter is the move of the state to use vacant Slum Rehabilitation Authority buildings to house these migrant workers, including those who are currently in rented accommodation that is familiar and secure.

“They are already traumatised, far from home in the middle of a crisis, and now they could be uprooted from spaces that are familiar to them and moved to spaces where they will be constantly monitored, under a curfew of a different kind,” she added.

Being at home all day also means the workers need more water, for the washroom, for cooking, etc. While food is available through civil society initiatives, transporting it to those in need remains a problem. “Apart from the need for rations, we also need systems to deliver aid of any kind,” she said.

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