That’s Collector Menaka (North Goa) briefing migrants without a place to stay and registered for shelter at the Youth Hostel, Anant Joshi (dark shirt) and other Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports office bearers briefed her about limitations and shortcomings

By Our Special Correspondent

THE coronavirus lockdown has its moments. Where I stay in Panaji there’s a large contingent of Nepali migrants eking out a job doing sundry jobs as shop girls, domestic workers, helping out in restaurants, as cleaners in 5-star hotels if more fortunate. It is true that the coronavirus lockdown is harsher on the migrant community working in Goa with various local landlords and landladies telling them to pay their rentals of Rs4,000 or so for dingy, dark, barely equipped tenanted room spaces – or it is as it is these days, “If you cannot pay rent you better go back Nepal.” Or wherever you hail from.
Also, many Goan householders are inclined to think that cold and cough infections often come with domestic workers, plus now there is the dreaded coronavirus infection which everyone is busy keeping at bay. Most have told domestic help to take a break till times are healthier. When my Nepali maid appealed to continue to work, I said okay and in conversations with her she suddenly started excusing herself, “I’m going to near the Marriott hotel where there is Youth Hostel where sarkar is giving free rations, 10am the queue starts… government is giving onions, potatoes, rice, dal…10am and also again from 4pm. My friend and I went yesterday and want to go today!”
Zapped, I exclaimed, “I’m also living in a rented home and as a journalist not exactly well provided, so I will also come and stand in the queue for my rations…” Yes, yes, said Rupa, you too come and stand in queue. Funny or not funny. Instead of getting rations I can do with, I’m not sure if I qualify as BPl or APL after some 20 years of life and times in Goa, that is below poverty level or above poverty level. I hunt for my ration book of old but can’t find it. I go anywhere and end up doing this report for whatever it is worth!

Rations distribution timing put up at Youth Hostel entrance at Miramar, Panaji… migrants and locals queue up for basic rations like rice, flour, onions, potatoes, etc. Onions are selling at `30-40kg at the Goa Horticultural centres but prices of pulses have doubled, eggs too are selling at `70 currently instead of the `35-40 dozen before coronavirus lockdown.

My photographer friend Ravindra Dalvi was there at the YHAI premises and introduced me to Anant Joshi of the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports (he takes care of YHAI activities). He says they got instructions from the Collector (North Goa) to start distributing rations to whoever needed them from March 30, 2020. Collector’s Office makes all the arrangements of acquiring and distribution of rations to whoever needs them.
Plus, the YHAI hostel is also doubling as accommodation premises acquired for the duration of the lockdown for patients to be quarantined or anyone in need of shelter. According to Mr Joshi, “As of now we have 45 people making use of YHAI accommodation, they’re laborers from Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Nepal, Orissa, Andhra, one of them is Chinese! All men, but there’s a woman too…” From the sound of it the workers have nowhere to go and are trapped in Goa because of the lockdown which has brought all transport to a halt. Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner is provided to the temporary guests at the YHAI. All arrangements have been made for them.
By 10.30am the rations queue was growing with several migrant women working in the vicinity and others, anxious to collect whatever rations they could get. Quantities were small and as long as the day’s stocks lasted, half kg of onions or potatoes, kilo of rice or half kg dal….different days, different things. This distribution is different from the pack deal rations distributed for Rs200 or Rs800 by various local MLAs and politicians through their network of staff at notified centers like the Taleigao Community Center or various Panchayat premises – here rations are paid for at minimal rates reportedly and one may acquire atta, rice, oil, sugar, salt, bread and even eggs.
Collector (North Goa) Smt R Menaka (IAS) arrived to check on those admitted for shelter at the YHAI-Miramar, she enquired of the men if they had received various convenience goods like toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, whatever else they needed by way of creature comforts? Many had also got mattresses to spend the night out on the skating rink compound. The Collector briefed the men about health rules and informed them that a doctor would be there to check and treat them if they were not well, she asked, “Do any of you have fever? If any of you have fever please let us know.”
Later responding to my query if all was well with the government diktat to stop migrant labor from returning to their home states and instead take care of them, she replied, “We follow whatever orders we get…and hope that all’s well!” Asked if the lockdown would be extended she confessed she was in the dark about how long the lockdown would continue.
My Nepali maid in the rations queue said hello to me and informed me that rations were yet to arrive for distribution, is it okay if she turns up later for work in the afternoon? Come anytime I said, midnight is also fine! A fleeting thought occurred that Nepali migrants are not Indian citizens, yet they have Aadhar cards on which they can get whatever benefits available courtesy Goa government charity. A colleague tells me cash too is being distributed in some places for those who need money and those who have ration cards, “but first you must call at your local mamlatdar’s office to present your credentials as local or migrant.”
To comment the very least here I returned home wondering if one of these days I could also find myself sailing in the same boat as my maid, unable to pay my rent yet at the same time reluctant to stand in a queue to collect rations at public exchequer’s cost! Where is my ration book, where the hell is it? If not below poverty line surely I qualify as above poverty line? The fine differences baffle me these anxiety filled days of the coronavirus in town. Never mind that media people too are affected by the coronavirus lockdown as much as most everyone else who has to earn a primary living.

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