“I want to assure you that we would not let anyone in Delhi suffer from hunger,” Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, said in a press conference, on 4 April. Reports had already emerged of many in Delhi, particularly migrant workers, having no access to food since the start of the nationwide lockdown to fight COVID-19, on 25 March. Kejriwal added that foodgrain would be made accessible to migrant workers if they applied through a form on the Delhi government’s website. But using the website posed a series of obstacles for migrant workers, not least that it is wasn’t even accessible.
At the very outset, the Delhi government’s decision to introduce the scheme through a website raises questions, given that many daily-wage labourers lack the necessary access to internet or literacy to submit an application, making it an unreasonable system. Further, the form is not available in the Hindi version of the state government’s official website. Worse still, the form has been inaccessible on the English website since the morning of 6 April—upon clicking the form, the website shows an error message that reads, “Server under heavy load! Please check after some time.” The Delhi government’s technocratic attempt at addressing hunger in the national capital has left many workers without any access to food.
The unanticipated nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March resulted in a panicked situation for the poor and migrant labourers in large cities across India. Food scarcity, inflation and the disruption of food-supply chains meant that food was difficult to access for many in Delhi. Closures in construction and small-scale industries has also contributed to the severe food insecurity for daily-wage earners and migrant labourers, many of whom are attempting to return to their native villages in neighbouring states.
Various state governments attempted to address the food insecurity of migrant labourers with varying degrees of success. The government of Kerala has set up relief camps for forty-six thousand migrant labourers in the state and set up free community kitchens to feed them. These kitchens even make north Indian food because many migrants from that region were not as comfortable with Kerala’s cuisine. Similarly, on 30 March, the Telangana government ordered municipalities and panchayats to set up temporary relief camps for all migrant labourers. It also provided 12 kilograms of wheat and Rs 500 to over thirty-four thousand migrant labourers who did not possess the food-security cards distributed by the government.
Taking a cue from his counterparts in the southern states, on 4 April, Kejriwal announced that the Delhi government was creating a system of distributing foodgrain to around ten lakh residents of the city who did not hold ration cards. Speaking at the press conference about non-ration card holders getting access to food, Kejriwal said, “A small form has been created on the website fill up that form and register. Registration is necessary if we start giving ration just like that.” He continued, “People will start taking ration more than ten times and there is not that much ration. The reason for this registration is so that people don’t come take ration again second or third time.”