The crisis emerging out of the threat from Coronavirus is herculean. Several civil society actors in Odisha have risen to the occasion in different ways to intervene on behalf of the poor and the destitute.

On March 25, this reporter found some homeless people starving in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha due to the lockdown and shared their plight with the authorities. The response came from the Rotary Club, a charitable organization, which offered cooked food to the starving people the next day. In fact, after this reporter informed the matter to the Member of Parliament Aparajita Sarangi, who represents Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha constituency, she linked the same to the Rotary Club and asked to help this destitute group.

Sarat Mishra of the Rotary Club informed “We are running a community kitchen in Nayapalli area. We have been providing cooked food to about two hundred daily labourers in this area, who have no means to cook food for them. We are maintaining social distance when distributing food and have requested the labourers also to do the same. We will try to give them one time cooked meal till the lockdown is over.” Our club is also preparing food in three other places in the city, informed Mishra.

The homeless are a category of people who have suffered the most during the lockdown. The Bhubaneswar Municipal Commissioner Prem Chandra Chaudhury claims, “We have eight night-shelters in the city which are functional. In each shelter, about forty to fifty people are staying. They are being regularly fed.”

Ghasiram Panda of ActionAid NGO and a member of the State level Monitoring Committee on homeless says, “The number of night-shelters is inadequate to accommodate the homeless people in the city.” Odisha has about 6559 homeless people as per the survey by ActionAid NGO in 2017.

Eventually, the state government issued an order to all the district Collectors on 27th March to supply either cooked meals or packet meals to all the destitute people like the homeless, beggars or anyone without food both the times free of cost. Several civil society actors have been active in identifying the place where such destitute are not getting food and bringing them to the notice of the authorities through phone calls, tweets etc.

Sameet Panda, a Food Rights activist, who is running a what’s aap group, Odisha RTF Campaign says, “There are about 189 social workers in this group who are from across the state. We are sharing vital government orders, other information through this group. A lot of field level information is also coming through this group helping many of us to inform the journalists to report and the authorities for action.”

Umi Daniel of Aide Et Action and his team are gathering information on the stranded migrants in Telengana and Tamil Nadu etc and connecting to help them out. “We also influenced the Telengana government who has now issued an order instructing the Construction companies not to layoff the workers and take care of them”

Sandeep Patnaik, another activist has brought forth the distress of some people from Mankidia community living in Kalinga Nagar Industrial Complex in Jajapur district of the state, who have no food to eat, to the notice of the media to highlight so that they are helped by the authorities.

Key information on how to save oneself from COVID -19 and sharing suggestions to the government on how best to improve the situation of the migrant workers, homeless and such destitute are done by the social workers.

Pradeep Baisakh is a senior journalist. Email: 2006pradeep@gmail.com


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