Covid-19 pandemic: Civil Society demands incentivising long term food distribution, providing free ration to all homeless

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Winning Bizness Bureau

Anand Mishra

Mumbai. The current Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown have now crippled the livelihood of the poor and homeless, pushing them to the brink of starvation. As the country is advancing in next phase of lockdown and subsequently the patients of Corona positives are landing in hospitals in bigger numbers, civil society members have altogether focused to bail out the most vulnerable class of the society i.e. 40 lakh homeless of the country.

Almost all the sections of society have come forward to feed the homeless and perhaps the best thing is so far that not even a single homeless has been reported to have died for the want of food so far in 11 days of lockdown, thanks to lakhs of generous people across the country and social organisations which have been discharging their social responsibilities to the best.

For instance, Indian Railway has launched a mission “No One Sleeps hungry” and tirelessly serving less privileged section of the society by preparing community meals in its different base kitchens across the country. According to a press communiqué, Railway along with Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) serving community meals to the needy through various NGOs, in co-ordination with the Commercial and RPF Department of Railway.

Noted medico-legal expert Dr Ashish Tiwari also pointed out the isolation and food care of these highly exposed class (homeless) is as equally important as dealing with other aspect of Corona crisis. He said that several countries including America, South Africa etc which are fighting with deadly Corona outspread, have assembled the homeless in the football stadiums and providing them all out assistance by isolating them.

“If these homeless are traced, isolated and served food well, then half of the battle is won, because these people are highly exposed to the infectious environment. They do not have home. If they are fed well, then government machinery and other system will have full control on them and distribution of social services and mass screening will be a simpler task,” Dr Tiwari told Winning Bizness.

In addition to this, here in Maharashtra, various organisations working for poor and homeless have written a letter to Uddhav Thackeray, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and demanded to do away with cut of income criteria, universalize the Public Distribution System (PDS) and provide free ration to all.

Mukta Srivastava, a senior member from Anna Adhikar Abhiyan, Maharashtra, in her letter to Mr. Thackeray has demanded to expand and universalise the PDS and provide 10 kgs of universal and free ration to all, besides providing emergency relief to all other poor and migrant workers who do not possess ration card.

Outlining government’s efforts and initiatives, senior Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke said that Maharashtra Government has ensured that regular quota of food grains are made immediately available at ration shops across the state.

Latke said, “We are also ensuring that ration and other shops are opened 24×7 in all parts of the state supply chain of groceries are not affected. Maharashtra government has already decided to distribute the regular quota of food grains at ration shops for the month of April, May and June in advance.

Notably, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on 26th March announced that 80 crore poor people will get 5 kg per person rice/wheat each month for the next 3 months in addition to 5kg of rice/wheat that they already get. Besides, 1kg of pulse according to regional preference for each household.

Job Cornelius, an entrepreneur and social activist, suggests that cooked and hygienic food needs to be provided at the doorstep all the poor and homeless by the state and union governments in a systematic manner and over a period of three months or as long as the effects of the lockdown looms large.

“Currently whatever food being distributed to the needy people across the country, are being done by the members of civil societies, NGOs, activists and political parties. However, this needs to be well supported and channelized through the government agencies by their own policies and initiatives. The food distribution plan has to be planned in a meticulous and incentivising way that people must avoid going in crowd,” Cornelius said adding that farmers need to be given special relief package, in order that chain of food supply of the country is not effected.

Job also suggested that in order to incentivize the long term food distribution by the individuals as social movement tool, government may offer tax rebate to such generous under the 80CC of the Income Tax, besides a devising a mechanism to segregate such needy people on ward or village or district level.

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