Coronavirus outbreak: Nepalese labourers, families in Panvel survive on one meal a day

Around 45 families, comprising daily wage labourers from Nepal, have been stuck in their rented homes in Panvel’s Adai village since the lockdown, with no clue as to where they will get their next meal from. A majority of these workers had come to Panvel only a few months ago, in search of a livelihood. Most of them hail from villages in and around Dailekh district, in Kanali Pradesh, one of the 77 districts of Nepal.

Thirty-four-year-old Dambar Bahadur Shahi, a Nepalese watchman working in a nearby residential complex in Panvel for the last eight years, has been trying to help these 200-odd men and women, and their children. Shahi, who makes a meagre salary himself, has been dipping into his own savings to sponsor rice, dal, onion, potato and oil to these families. However, having exhausted his last month’s salary, he is now trying to reach out to self-help groups and NGOs in Panvel to help these labourers. “They [the labourers and their families] are all from my neighbourhood in Nepal, and apart from me, they have no other contact here. I could not see them or their children starve, and therefore, I did my best to provide them basic essentials,” Shahi said. He added that as the stock was less, some families would only have one meal a day, usually skipping their breakfast and dinner. “The children were given some packets of biscuits and milk, but I don’t have enough money to continue feeding them.”

Dambar Bahadur Shahi, a Nepalese watchman, dipped into his own savings to sponsor ration
Dambar Bahadur Shahi, a Nepalese watchman, dipped into his own savings to sponsor ration

As some of the families possess proof of residence issued by the Nepal government, they are not entitled for free and subsidised food grains being distributed at the ration shops. “I was working in a hotel in Panvel and was getting paid Rs 10,000 per month. The Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown has led to shutting down of the hotel. My employer paid us for the month of March, but we are unlikely to be paid this time, as the hotel was shut the entire month. I don’t know how I will feed my family of three,” said Suraj Soni.

Shahi said that most men work as daily labourers, drawing Rs 400 to Rs 600; the women have jobs as house maids. “They can’t even think of returning to Nepal once the lockdown is lifted, as there is no livelihood or job for them back home,” said Shahi.

Several groups have, however, come forward to help the families. Mangal Kamble, founder president of Swach Kharghar Foundation (SKF) said that his group members have volunteered to provide basic ration.

Vijay Yelmale, another Good Samaritan from Sector 20, Kharghar said that his society has contributed around Rs 10,000 to help these labourers. “I will personally be delivering the ration packets to them. We hope that this supply will last them for a few days at least.”

When contacted, Nidhi Choudhari, Raigad district collector, said that while they had only extended free food grains supply to ration card holders, they have been running community kitchens, which serve free lunch and dinner to thousands of people daily. “We will provide these families with ration kits consisting of rice, dal, wheat flour, tea powder, sugar, masalas, oil and salt, free of cost, which we procure at a subsidised rate from the Food Corporation of India, and also through various CSR support groups.”

Amit Sanap, tehsildar of Panvel also assured support. “We do not want anyone to starve during this lockdown. I have already directed my thalati from Panvel and his team to deliver weekly food supply to these families, until the lockdown period is over.”

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