Hunger Helpline overwhelmed: At least 15% gap in demand and delivery of food

Volunteers and staff of Akshaya Patra working at an essential grocery box packing unit at Palace Grounds on Tuesday.

Volunteers and staff of Akshaya Patra working at an essential grocery box packing unit at Palace Grounds on Tuesday.  

On an average, it gets over 6,000 calls, and many are not getting through

The Hunger Helpline (155214) was launched in Bengaluru on March 28 with the promise that food would reach those in need. However, its efficacy has been criticised with many saying that not only is it difficult to get through, but several requests successfully placed are also going unattended.

“Even after over a week since its launch, it is not fully functional. Several requests made on the helpline go unattended for days, with helpline staff not knowing how long it will take to fulfil them,” said Vinay Sreenivasa, of Naavu Bharateeyaru, which works with poor and migrant labourers.

Those manning the helpline concede that there is a problem of demand and supply. “An overwhelmed helpline is finding it tough to match demand with supply,” said P. Manivannan, secretary, Labour Department, overseeing the helpline efforts. As the situation stands today, there is a gap of at least 15% between the demand for food that the helpline registers and what is being delivered every day, he added.

Presently, the helpline is sourcing food from six vendors including Wipro, Art of Living and Admaya Chetana, totalling to at least over 1.5 lakh meals daily, which is apart from several other initiatives also serving the same demography.

Demand rises

On Monday, the helpline had a supply of 93,000 meals for lunch and 78,500 meals for dinner. “The problem of demand is several times more in its magnitude than we initially estimated,” said Mr. Manivannan. He said the Labour Department is working with unions to map vulnerable labourers. “The unions say there is a need to provide at least two lakh meals, a day. We are working on ramping up our supplies. More people are needed to open up community kitchens and help in the time of need,” he said.

The discontinuing of free food at Indira Canteens has only increased demand, said sources at the Hunger Helpline. Around 96,000 meals were being served daily at Indira Canteens before it was stopped.

Ironing out glitches

The Hunger Helpline is sorting out other glitches. For instance, on an average, it gets over 6,000 calls seeking help each day, and many are still not getting through. “We started with 20 phone lines and ramped it up to 70 lines. But it is still not enough. In a day or two, we will increase it to 120 lines,” Mr. Manivannan said. “One of the major challenges we face is the duplication of needs. For a single group of labourers, multiple people call and place requests for entire groups duplicating demand. By the time we discover the duplication, it may be too late and some others in need may not get food,” he said.

To correct this, volunteers from Swiggy have now developed a geotagging feature in the ‘Dasoha’ software the department has been using to match demand and supply. “Since requests for food and later delivery are now geo-tagged, we will be able to solve the issue of duplications to a large extent. It will also help us track demand well,” Mr. Manivannan said.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 5:54:57 PM |

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