New Delhi: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced schemes and online applications this month to provide relief to people whose livelihood means were affected due to the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the highly infectious novel coronavirus.
Earlier this week, the CM announced that his government has joined hands with Google Maps to list out all the food and night shelters that have been arranged in the national capital.
The government has also partnered with Map My India, and the location of night and food shelters are available on Map My India’s Covid-19 guide.
Besides, the government has tied up with ‘CallDoc’ app through which patients can connect with doctors and get free online medical consultation for their non-emergency medical needs.
Another scheme — Delhi Driver Yojana — was announced earlier this month under which the government would provide a financial assistance of Rs 5,000 to the drivers of public transport vehicles, including autos, taxis and e-rickshaws, in the capital as their source of income has stopped due to the lockdown.
But the scheme and mobile applications found very little resonance on the ground as a host of issues came to the fore when ThePrint met migrant workers and auto drivers.
Since the Delhi government’s apps need to be accessed via smartphones with internet data, migrant labourers and homeless people are not able to use those applications as majority of them do not have a smartphone.
And those who have smartphones, they have little or no money for recharge as most of them are out of jobs. Recharging phones is also an issue during lockdown as all mobile shops are shut. A majority of the migrant workers are prepaid mobile users without access to any app-based recharge services.
This apart, most migrant workers don’t know how to use mobile applications because they don’t have enough digital literacy.
Sleeping on streets without phones
Tahir Mohammad, a rag-picker, has been sleeping for the past few weeks with bare minimum clothes beneath the Dhaula Kuan flyover. Due to the lockdown, he is left with no money.
“I have no phone saheb, I used to earn Rs 500-600 a day after selling the scrap in Moti Bagh. How can I afford to buy one (phone) and then take care of it as I sleep here and there every day,” he added.
According to reports, a total of 223 night shelters were initially opened that were operated by Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board. Later, the government started over 1,500 food distribution centres along with temporary shelters for migrant workers.
Tahir, however, told ThePrint he hasn’t found any food or night shelter and he depends on the passersby for food.
While most of the migrants, sleeping on the streets, don’t have a phone, those who had a phone, they lost it in their daily struggle of searching for food and water.
Rinku Prasad, a resident of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, had come to Delhi to treat his liver ailment in AIIMS and got stuck due to the lockdown. He has been sleeping in the subway near AIIMS metro station since the lockdown.
“I approached three nearby tent-style shelter homes but two of them turned me back saying they are already full and won’t keep new patients for fear of infection while the other one asked for Rs 100 a day, which I couldn’t afford due to my medical expenses.”
“I had a smartphone worth Rs 7,000 but it was stolen as I was in a queue to get food for myself and someone took it from my pocket,” said Prasad.
Asked about using the ‘CallDoc’ app to get free medical advice online, Prasad said: “I’ve no knowledge of it.” He also said he doesn’t know how to access such apps as he only knows how to use WhatsApp and YouTube.
Some migrants, who don’t have a phone, are unable to speak to their families back home. Earlier, they used to call home using the phones of the shops where they worked or using phones of the people near them — both these options are not available anymore.
Saroj Kumar, a resident of Muzaffarpur in Bihar and a cart-puller in the Sadar Bazar area, which has been sealed, told ThePrint: “I don’t have a phone. I used to call my family from the landline in the shops where I used to offload groceries or else from fellow cart-pullers’ phones. But shops are closed now and phones of other cart-pullers either have no balance now or their phones are out of charge.”
“When even they (fellow cart-pullers) can’t talk to their families back home, with what right can I ask them to lend me their phone so that I can make a call,” he said.
Mobile shops shut, migrants can’t recharge phones
Sanjay Kumar, a rickshaw-puller and a native of Khagaria in Bihar, has been sleeping on his rickshaw for the past few weeks, which he has kept near a night shelter at Ramlila Maidan. The shelter couldn’t accommodate him due to lack of space, he said.
“Sir, we have basic keypad phones and it has just Rs 11 left as balance. I can charge my phone once in three days and that too after much pleading with the night shelter manager as there are just two charging points available there,” he said.
Asked about food distribution in the area, Sanjay said: “It happened in the first few days (of the lockdown). But it has now stopped as police are chasing the people distributing food and even beating us.”
Arif Zaidi, another rickshaw-puller and a native of Motihari in Bihar, said he can’t recharge his phone as all mobile shops are shut.
“There is no money to recharge my phone or get internet data as shops are shut. How will I locate a shelter home online then?”
Asked if he has used Google maps, Arif said: “We work mostly in old Delhi where no map works and we only know the shortcuts, so there is no need or knowledge for using Google map as we have our own map.”
‘Complex process’ to register under Delhi Driver Yojana
Kejriwal’s one-time monetary aid for drivers of public transport also has no resonance on the ground.
To avail of the aid, drivers need to register themselves on the Delhi transport department’s official website.
But drivers of gramin sewa vehicles of the Chhatarpur-JNU route said they know nothing about the scheme.
Some drivers who knew about the scheme complained about the complex registration process.
Praveen Singh, a native of Etawah in Uttar Pradesh, told ThePrint that he just knows how to use Paytm, Google Pay and social media websites.
“We are just 5th pass from government school and only know how to use WhatsApp, YouTube, Paytm and Google Pay by memorising the process a thousand times from people like you who we use to ferry from here to there. How will we work on a totally new website even with the internet?”
When this reporter opened the transport department’s website to make the drivers understand the registration process, none of them could grasp anything as the instructions were all in English — a language that is foreign to them.
Dhirendra Kumar, a native of Mainpuri in UP, expressed discontent with the Kejriwal government.
“Our livelihoods have already been affected with the increased operation of e-rickshaws and metro-feeder buses on our routes. Then the Kejriwal government plays such a joke on us by announcing a scheme that requires us to register online at a time when one can’t even charge their phone (batteries) or even recharge,” he said.
“… How does the government expect us to register for a scheme online on a totally different and new website,” said Kumar.
The drivers also said it has been difficult to stay in touch with their families back home due to lack of phone balance and also frequent call drops.
“It’s been weeks since I had a word with my family and children as I borrowed a cellphone from a sanitary worker only once and even then the voice was cracking and the call kept dropping every now and then. I worry for their well-being,” said Kumar.
Singh said he now sends one-line text message to his family as his unlimited call-internet pack has expired and his talk-time balance is just Rs 18, which he has to use until the end of lockdown on 3 May.
“…My children back home bother my wife as they want to speak to me, she has to scold them and it’s very difficult for her to convince the children every day. I just call them once in the night and inform them that all is well so that not more than a rupee is deducted from my balance,” he added.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.