Coronavirus 21-day lockdown: As India goes into a 21-day nationwide lockdown in order to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus infection, the poor and homeless are likely to face consequences for basic survival. In this regard, the Indian Railways’ catering arm IRCTC has taken up a noble initiative to support such groups of people. According to an IE report, the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is likely to provide “distress meals” to the thousands of homeless and destitute amidst the Coronavirus lockdown.
All of the zonal railway headquarters of IRCTC has been asked to make specific provisions and facilities so that the basic distress meals are available in bulk, across several areas in the respective zones. These IRCTC distress meals are likely to include the simple homemade food items such as dal khichdi with pickle, while certain other IRCTC units are working towards providing the Swaminarayan khichdi. According to the report, the IRCTC officials are working towards providing the bulk meals to as many as 3,000 to 5,000 people at one go, through the various IRCTC base stations. Brijesh Arya, convenor of Collective for Homeless, was quoted in the report saying that the census of 2011 has put the total number of homeless people in the city of Mumbai to 57,416 and nearly one lakh people in the state of Maharashtra. However, the actual numbers are much higher than these, with Mumbai alone having around two lakh homeless people.
Brijesh Arya added that their own movement has been restricted, but they would want to work with the government to help in identifying where these homeless people are living and to provide for them. The biggest challenge for IRCTC is the mobilisation of manpower under the strict curfew scenario. This is because the IRCTC staff is not recognized under the essential services and their movement is not possible, according to an IRCTC official who was quoted in the report.
IRCTC functions with its own staff members, as well as with several other contractual workers, who are currently experiencing difficulty in movement. With the Indian Railways train services suspended, several daily wage workers across many areas in the country, have been left to fend for themselves, with no daily jobs available.
Piyush Goyal-led Indian Railways, for supporting the prevention of Coronavirus, is also making arrangements to turn train coaches into quarantine facilities. The freight train services across the network is constantly ensuring the supply of essential commodities such as milk, sugar, food grains, vegetables to be transported to various parts of the country. In the 21-day lockdown period, Indian Railways has also not cut the wages of its housekeeping staff, and has been paying them accordingly.