As the heart-wrenching news of migrant labourers walking thousands of kilometres to return home poured in following the announcement of countrywide lock-down on March 24, Bengaluru-based author and entrepreneur Sudipto Das, his neighbours and batch mates from IIT Kharagpur, discussed how they could make a difference within their locality itself. “Our apartment is on Sarjapur Road. We pondered over how we could help so many people stranded in the lock-down. Images of people trekking hundreds of kilometres, abandoning the cities they no longer could call home, carrying little babies in their arms — babies who might not even survive the ordeal — drove us crazy. There had to be a solution.”.”
After some introspection and brainstorming, they analysed the root cause for the exodus. Says Sudipto: “It is caused because, suddenly, with no cash in hand, millions of daily wage earners staying away from home were feeling alienated and helpless, with no one to share their pain and uncertainty about the immediate future. Under such circumstances, it is but natural to yearn for their families back home.”
Sudipto adds there were two problems they needed to tackle, one of hunger and the other of the rapid spread of the coronavirus through mass movement. “With hunger being the root cause, what comes to mind is the need to feed the hungry. In such a scenario, central kitchens and arrangements for massive food distribution might look logical. Even, for the sake of argument, if we assume that million people could be picked up from their homes during the lock-down, taken to the central kitchens, fed, and then again dropped back home, all the time maintaining social distancing, and all the known standards of hygiene, it is not feasible to prepare so much food on a daily basis.”
After exploring his neighbourhood and from his findings, Sudipto adds that most of daily wage earners already have cooking arrangements, wherever they have been staying. All they need is supplies from their grocers, who they have been going to all these days and who give them their daily provisions on credit. “We can’t blame the local grocers, who are more often than not, people of meagre means themselves and have concerns for unrecoverable debts. That is when an idea flashed through our minds. We thought of breaking down the macro problem of millions people at the city level into the hyper-micro problems of only a few hundred in each neighbourhood. Looking around in our own neighbourhood we figured out that we could very well pool in some money and pay the local grocery stores for the daily provisions of the people who are stranded here. We talked to the people about their basic requirements, negotiated a good rate with the grocer and come up with a unit containing basic provisions to sustain a family of four to five people, including children for two days. We then requested one person from each family to collect the packet directly from the shop. This served several purposes. It ensured that no one had to travel beyond a few hundred meters, thus not violating the norms of the lock-down or social distancing. We didn't have to bother about the logistics at all, thus making the entire process very simple; it ensured that there were no middlemen and that the packets directly reached the ones they were meant for; and finally, it ensured that there would not be any wastage, as we had given a limited quantity.”
What the packets contain
The packets comprise two kilograms of rice, half a kilogram each of dal, potato and onion, half a litre of cooking oil, a packet of biscuits, some green chillies and one soap. “After some negotiation, the grocer was ready to give it for ₹250.”
On how they identified the people in need, Sudipto says: “They stay in our neighbourhood. Each of us went around and identified stranded people, within few hundred meters of our homes, while going out to buy groceries, talked to them, authenticated, verified that the needs are genuine, talked to the same grocers they have been buying stuff from all these days, paid for the number of packets they would need, and asked one member per family to go to the shop and collect the packet.”
As of today they have self delivered packets to 377 people in Sarjapur Road. “By self delivered I mean the labourers collected from the nearby stores and we just paid the respective grocers,” says Sudipto.
Gobind Sharma, a labourer, says they are receiving the unit packets. “Four or five of us live together in Dasarahalli and so we are able to share the food among us. The stores get replenished but if we can get a little more rice, it would be good.” 35-year-old Jayaram M, an advocate, who stays in Sarjapur, says: “I do a round of the locality to see if people are in need. And then I update Sudipto. We don’t always get every item from one shop, we have to source different items from different shops.” Likkhu, a security guard says: “These packets help sustain us. Our homes are far in UP and Bihar.”
This simple model, which can be replicated by anyone in their locality, has got others interested too. “You don’t need to go out regularly, just on a day when you go out to buy groceries, look around and you will surely see people stranded. Identify them, talk to the grocer and ask the fund manager to pay the grocer and within 10 minutes the people get their necessities.” Sudipto received calls from people across the city. “Someone called from KR Puram and organised groceries for 65 people there. We paid from our funds for two clusters stranded at Bannerghatta Road and Dasarahalli, based on someone who personally identified the people.”
“The idea is to stay at home, respect the lockdown but still do whatever we can at a micro level to minimises the movement of people. Our target is to reach 500.” For details email: email@example.com.