Food security evades labourers following job loss during COVID-19 lockdown

Many migrant labourers went back to their villages and survived by taking up work in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) projects during the COVID-19 lockdown.   | Photo Credit: -

Anwar Khan from West Bengal stays in a labour camp at Hebbal and does odd jobs for a livelihood. The lockdown has been tough on his family and others living in the camp, pushing them to the brink of starvation on many days. “We cut down on meals and ate only twice a day to conserve whatever little ration we had. Then, an NGO started giving us meals and some dry ration. But they stopped on Sunday, as the city was unlocked. But we are yet to find jobs. The little ration we have will probably last for another three days,” he told The Hindu.

Large sections of the poor were pushed to food rationing, cutting down on milk, meat and, in some cases, even vegetables, threatening nutrition security during the lockdown, which was the finding of at least two studies – ‘No Country for Workers’ by Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) and ‘Workers in the Second Wave’ by AICCTU, Karnataka. The situation is expected to be grim even with unlocking on June 21.

Pratibha S., a garment worker, said with factories being allowed to work with only 30% staff strength, she is yet to get a posting. “No wages were paid for the past two months. I am a single parent with two children. We have run out of savings. We barely survive on ration distributed by the PDS. Though they give 7 kg of rice, after cleaning, what we can cook is usually less than 5 kg. How is it enough? I am struggling to arrange milk for my children,” she said. She is hoping that the factory calls her back to work soon.

The situation of nomadic communities living outside villages seems worse. Rajasab Kalandar, a member of the Karadi Kalandar community in Koppal, said, “We have been rationing food for the past two months. Children, the elderly and sick are given preference. Others eat one or two meals a day,” he said.

C.S. Dwarakanath, honorary president, Karnataka Alemari Mattu Budakattu Mahasabha, wrote to Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa last week seeking a relief package for nomadic communities alerting him about the possibility of hunger deaths, but there was no response.

Many people who were working in Bengaluru returned to their villages mainly to escape starvation.

“I don’t have a ration card in Bengaluru. With no work, we would be pushed to starvation, which was our experience last year. So, we returned to our village in Yadgir district, where we have a ration card and a small plot of land. We also worked in NREGA. We survived,” said Hanumappa, a construction worker who has now returned to Bengaluru.

Non-portability of ration cards remains a big challenge, according to the SWAN report. A year after the Union government announced One Nation, One Ration Card as an answer to food security challenges of migrant workers, SWAN found 93% of the workers they interviewed across the country had a ration card, but this was not functional in the places where they were stranded.

The report also pointed out how community kitchens and NGOs distributing food were sparse during the second wave of COVID-19, while food distribution at Indira Canteens in Bengaluru came with several restrictions, like furnishing of ration card if a person takes more than three packets.

Health practitioner Dr. Sylvia Karpagam said the Public Distribution System (PDS) only gave what is needed for bare minimum sustenance and not for nutrition security, which was supplemented by the beneficiaries through their earnings. “Just because the lockdown is lifted, food security issues won't be solved. Even if they find work now, they will get some money weeks or a month later. The situation will ease gradually, until which time government and NGOs need to continue supporting them,” she said.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 3:38:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/food-security-evades-labourers-following-job-loss-during-covid-19-lockdown/article34897969.ece

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