M. A. Siraj
The operation against hunger during lockdown undertaken by some NGOs run by the Muslim community in collaboration with mainstream NGOs have led to considerable relief for the migrant labourers and the poor households in Bengaluru during the last one month. The latest report of the Mission says it has been able to supply ration kits to households worth 32 lakh meals.
It is now a month since national lockdown was announced by the Union Government as the immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis triggered by the lockdown since March 24 has led to the huge disruption of civic life and economic activity. Sudden clamping of prohibitions on mobility has adversely impacted the common folk and added to the hardships of the people seeking their livelihood through intensely rigorous work.
Realising the difficulties of the common people, activists of 17 NGOs had launched the ‘Mercy Mission’ soon after the lockdown announcement. The Mission got off to a start on March 29. The Mission set up the Mercy Helpline with eight telephone lines and 20 volunteers working for 12 hours from 8 am to 8 pm. By April 23, it had received around 7,000 calls from persons in distress. However, since resources at hand were limited, it could address the needs of only around 30% of the callers.
Over the last 30 years, Bengaluru has emerged as a major megalopolis in South India attracting labourers, menial workers and professionals from different corners of India. The sudden clampdown of prohibitions on mobility brought the life to a standstill on March 24. However, the city did not witness any exit of labourers to distant home states. Though the State Government announced several relief measures, resources and wherewithal with the State machinery being limited, access to them for the common men was severely restricted. The Mission figured out food, ration, medicine and care of elders as the primary needs of these workers as well as the poor residents who used to live off their daily earnings.
According to Mr. Ali Shariff, Director of the Mission’s operations, till April 23, the Mission has supplied over 26,127 dry ration kits worth Rs. 2.44 crore and distributed them in over 300 localities in the city and its outskirts. The Mission was gifted with another 9,760 ration kits by Zomato and Rotary Midtown. Altogether, these ration kits are estimated to have been good enough for 32.6 lakh meals.
Besides, the Mission has set up six community kitchens called ‘Mercy Kitchens’ which have supplied 170,000 food packets within the last 23 days. It also lent its network of volunteers to pick up another 470,000 food packets supplied by donors such as Atria Group of Hotels, the Bangalore Municipal Corporation known BBMP, IRS Officers Association and companies such as iPac, Compass and DIPR. The Mission currently maintains seven warehouses to store grocery and pack the ration kits with dry ration items prior to distribution.
A Mobile Clinic run by the Hazrath Bismillah Shah Hospital (HBS) visited five shelters for the homeless people by NGOs and conducted a medical check-up of around 600 patients and disbursed medicine worth Rs. 40,000 among the needy. It also visited three police stations to conduct checks-up of policemen on duty. Nearly 20 units of blood were collected during blood donation camps organized by the Mission which came handy for transfusion for around 60 ailing persons in need of blood. In some cases, the corpses of COVID-linked and non-COVID patients too were moved to cemeteries.
The Mission has streamlined the entire distribution during the first 23 days of lockdown. Calls from the individuals and families in distress are recorded, IDs are created, volunteers are assigned the work, needs are addressed and case is closed following handing over of kits, food packets or medicine. Following distribution, a random check with recipients is also conducted in order to ensure that the relief is reaching the needy.
A free helpline set up to provide medicine and counseling to elders too has been activated during the period. It has so far attended needs of over two dozen cases.
The Mercy Mission has also come up with a programme to create awareness for the period of distress where people are made aware of the necessary precautions to be taken for their safety and protection against the pandemic. It has deployed ten teams with megaphones in hand which move into slums, shanties and low-income neighbourhoods and play pre-recorded messages in Kannada, Tamil and Urdu.
A majority of those who were reached during the lockdown crisis were stranded labourers hailing from other states, mainly from West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and the North East. Low-income households in the city were also provided with ration kits or food packs.
The Prestige Group, a construction company rated as one among the five top builders in the country, has served around 13 lakh meals through food packets among the needy till April 20. The company headed by Mr. Irafan Razack is distributing around 50,000 food packets daily.
M. K. Agrotech, the manufacturers of Sunpure brand sunflower oil with their plant in Srirangapatna (near Mysuru), have taken up distribution of ration kits containing supplies sufficient for 30 days, to 7,000 families. These are being distributed in the nearby rural areas of Mandya district. The company headed by Mr. Subhan Khan manufactures several packed food items besides the flagship product sunflower oil. Rahmath Group, an organization of Ulema, too is supplying ration kits.
While Phone Helplines are continuously buzzing, the Mercy Mission’s WhatsApp group keeps receiving constant posts from social workers informing about groups of stranded and starving labourers, their need for food packets and volunteers informing the headquarters about their success in reaching the needy