Feed the hungryThe government can’t abandon the poor in the face of a humanitarian crisis.
Malar Sada, of Saptari district, starved to death, on May 19, after he lost his job due to the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government to tackle Covid-19. Two weeks later, on Wednesday, the government claimed to have spent Rs10 billion on Covid-19 control and relief distribution. Contrast Sada's death with the government's grandiose claims and all you see is a system that has failed to protect the most vulnerable section of the society when they need it the most.
Like the Sadas, thousands of families across the country that have lost their means of livelihood struggle to stave off hunger and malnutrition. The government must bear responsibility for Sada's death and more such deaths to come.
That the government has spent huge amounts of money in the name of relief distribution is partly true. The real concern, though, is whether those relief packages have benefitted the poor. Relief packages distributed at the local level have reportedly gone to the rich and the powerful rather than to the destitute and the powerless. A relief package that does not support the needy is as good as not distributed at all.
What's more, the food grains distributed by the government have turned out to be rotten and hence inedible—an unmistakable assault on the dignity of the poor. The poor have only lost their means of income—and not their dignity—due to the ill-planned lockdown. The right to food is a non-negotiable right of the citizens, especially when they are on the verge of starving to death. They should be spared the humiliation.
Despite grave uncertainties, the poor continue to look for opportunities to toil—rather than depend on the benevolence of others—so that they can survive on their own. For immediate relief, the least the government can do is to open community kitchens across the country and provide petty cash to the destitute. But it must ensure opening ways for them to get back to work if not provide them with long term financial support. The hunger of the few today should in no way acquire the magnitude of mass starvation in the near future.
Rather than spin propaganda, the government must focus on taking concrete steps towards easing the lives of the citizens. Entrepreneurs in several parts of the country, especially in the capital city, have begun disobeying the lockdown orders, having realised that the government is intent upon collecting taxes from them rather than supporting them during these trying times. This is a wake-up call for the government: if it does not correct its course immediately, it will go down in history as one that continued to browbeat citizens into paying taxes even as they rummaged through their last grain baskets to scramble up one final meal.