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In areas where government machinery is dwindling; non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and a group of citizens have stood up to provide for the destitute. While these institutions and individuals are able to provide instant relief to the migrating workers, poor and homeless, there is still a need for government and non-government bodies to work hand-in-hand.
Mahatma Phule Samaj Seva Mandal (MPSSM), chief functionary, Pramod Zinjade, said, “We have given food grains (for a week) to 2,000 distressed people in Kolhapur and Sangli. Our local partners in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg have said there are more than 2,000 people stuck there. These workers are usually with their wives and children, who are starving as well.” He added that his NGO along with other local NGOs have been able to recognise around 7,000 people that need help. With the financial support from Care India, Zinjade is looking forward to helping around 25,000 people. “Care India connected with local partners (with whom they have worked in the past) to understand the financial requirements. At the same time, we mobilised a Rs 50 lakh emergency fund. But these funds will not be enough to support the large number of migrating populations which is at the verge of starvation,” said Manoj Gopalakrishna, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CARE India.
Feeding the hungry populace in India has also been a problem. But with the Coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, a large number of underprivileged Indians are already pushed towards starvation. According to FAO estimates, 194.4 million people are undernourished in India, which means 14.5 per cent of the population is undernourished in India. While this number is expected to shoot up post this 21-day lockdown and slowdown of the economy, the present reality is feeding as many people as possible in order to discourage them from moving. This is mainly driven by the fear that even if one from the large migrating population will be infected with Coronavirus, then it can potentially start a community spread. This was echoed by the Supreme Court too that mass migration has to stop to combat Covid-2019.
While NGOs like Care India are looking at serving a large number of people, there are other NGOs and associations trying to cater to Mumbai and its outskirts, which is home to the largest slum population.
For instance, the non-profit Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) recognised that 34 settlements in Mumbai, Virar, Navi Mumbai and Panvel would need food supplies. Based on an early assessment, YUVA was able to identify the right set off people. Doel Jaikishen of YUVA said, “We have reached around 3,214 households — 13,734 people in total. We have provided them with a week’s ration in every package.”
Like YUVA, Zinjade from MPSSM realises the importance of authentic information. He added, “While we have recognised 7,000 needy people, we are taking help from local NGOs to trace more people who need help. We cannot falter.” He said one person’s food may cost somewhere around Rs 1,300 for 15 days. So, it’s important how they spend on the resources. Md Wasi Allam, Acting Head, Disaster Management Unit at Care India said, “More than 1 lakh households, are expected to be migrating to their home town as per our preliminary information.”
While in Maharashtra, Care India is still trying to get official help from the state government. But in Bihar, it is already working along with state authorities. At present, the NGO is procuring N95 masks for front-line health workers in Bihar, along with helping them with food supplies. It also delivered 125 quintals each of wheat flour and rice to Municipal Corporation of Lucknow for community kitchens. Allam said, “We are asking every government their requirements before collating any supplies.” This is essential in order to avoid any overlap. Care India has an association with around 400 NGOs across 14 states and has collected data to inform authorities about the number of people in stressed situations.
Meanwhile, National Hawkers Association, national secretary, Vinita Balekundri, is unhappy that there is a lack of coordination between authorities. She added, “There are around 300 workers in Khopoli-Airoli area. We sent their list to the disaster management team, but no heed is paid to it. Most of these are workers who work for different contractors and are attempting to go to their village. It is important we feed them or else they will migrate causing a bigger panic.” Balekundri added some states have taken proactive steps of stopping the workers from migrating. “There is a need for coordination between authorities. There are some clear gaps in the centre and state-level authorities. But to contain the movement of people, coordination is essential.”