Solving hunger crisis during lockdown: A guide to documenting migrant workers in need

Despite initiatives for food supply, large numbers of migrant workers in Bengaluru remain hungry during the lockdown. You can document these workers, either to pass on their information to ward officials, or to supply food directly.

Co-authored by Angarika Guha and Senthil S

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the difficulties migrant workers face in accessing food during the lockdown. In this part, we explore how citizens themselves can help solve this problem.

Even as NGOs and government agencies are involved in providing immediate relief (cooked food or dry ration) to the most vulnerable, the gap in their efforts is in the last-mile delivery of services. Janata audits can be a way to fix this.

It is important to document local conditions of the community to which you are providing relief. Accurate, high quality data when made transparent, ensures that government and employers can be held accountable. Once the data is available, it can be acted upon by media, civil liberties organisations and courts. It can be used to exert pressure on the ward-level BBMP officer for survey and supply of dry rations, which is a commitment from the  government.

Following is a summary of the steps a ‘Community Saathi’/activist can take, for relief distribution:

  • Approach community 
  • Geographically assess the clusters
  • For each geographical cluster, collect: Name, phone number, location, geo-tag, occupation, hometown  
  • Collect the ward number, and names of ward officer and corporator, since government relief works by ward
  • Write a report using this data 
  • Assess immediate relief needs 
  • Provide initial relief through personal support, NGOs, government helplines 
  • Use the report, discuss it with zonal municipal officer 
  • Ensure the municipal body (BBMP) does ward-level survey
  • Follow-up for dry ration supply from BBMP
  • Check quality and quantity of ration
  • In case of gaps, escalate the issue to civil liberty groups, activists and media if required, after due diligence
  • It helps if you are a collective/team – somebody handles the documentation, somebody the funding, somebody the procurement and transport, somebody the accounting and reporting to donors.

Following are the skills you need to have:

  • Primarily, commitment and sensitivity. The rest can be learnt. If you feel it is too hard, join somebody who feels more confident about this .
  • Alternatively, you can give financial support for immediate relief needs, which is easier. 
  • You can talk about migrant workers and the need for social audit, through social media.

How to go about this?

Following is a detailed, step-by-step guide on the process.

Step 1: You get an SOS call 


“Telugu-speaking Yanadi tribal community members, who are from Chennuru Mandal of Kadappa district in Andhra Pradesh, and work as construction labourers, are suffering in Bangalore due to the lockdown. They are in Bannerghatta Road, Hulimavu Gate, opposite Meenakshi Mall. Along with them are 200 other workers from different places/states. The phone numbers available are Gangadhar 630xxxxxx0 and Divya 63xxxxxxx7 (Telugu speaking). They got rations initially from someone and the mestri gave them Rs 500  some days back. They eat on days when food is available and go hungry at other times. Can someone please help?”

Step 2: Get an official pass

If you don’t have a pass issued by the government to distribute relief, you have to coordinate with someone local. If you have been to this area and have local contacts, this is easy.  Otherwise you need to reach out to someone nearby who can walk there.

Step 3: Understand the community members – migrant workers or BPL card holders

It’s important to understand the section of the marginalised people you are documenting and providing relief to. Currently, most of the relief is availed by people who have access to NGOs, government helplines, local political parties. Migrant workers are invisible.

Anyone with a BPL ration card is supposed to receive 5 kg rice per person per month. But migrant workers don’t have ration cards. The documentation inputs listed below are more for migrant workers. 

Step 4 : How to document

Depending on the size of the community, you may require 1-4 hours. 

Check on the workers as a friend; it’s important to build trust. Respect the local community, view things from their angle. Listen to them. They are working people. They have earned their living with honesty. Now they are hungry. They need results.

A migrant worker in ST Bed, Koramangala. Pic credit: Senthil S and Maraa.

First, introduce yourself, why you are there, why you are asking questions.

Following are some questions you could ask:

  1. How are they feeling?
  2. Where have they come from, how long they have been here? 
  3. Have they been paid? Do they have enough ration? How long will it last? 
  4. How many people are in the site/colony? 
  5. When were they last paid their salaries?
  6. Are their owners/contractors providing any money towards food/ration?
  7. If on rent, how much rent do they pay, and to whom? Has their rent been waived for this period?
  8. What are the issues back home? 
  9. What other challenges do they face at work and at their dwellings (discrimination, non-payment of wages, access to water/food, sanitation)? This may or may not be linked to the lockdown.
  10. Are there any specific needs/challenges women and children are facing? (if applicable)
  11. Are they bachelors/family? Number of family members. 
  12. Do they have access to drinking water and water for cooking, washing etc?
  13. Is anyone sick, in need of medical assistance?
  14. What are their immediate needs? For example, how much ration would they require for a week?
  15. Do they know other workers in the city; if yes, in which area? Do those workers need assistance? 

You may be well-intentioned, but this is the first time they are encountering you. Don’t assume they need help, please ask. A crisis should not rob people of their dignity.

What you need to document: 

  • Please find a point of contact in each area. This person can be a representative of workers in a particular locality. 
  • Please collect the following details
Number of workers  State (where are they from?) Occupation Mobile Number 
  • Government relief provided to them by their ward. You need to collect the ward number, the ward officer’s name and the corporator’s name. 
  • Please give them your phone number so they can get in touch with you in case of any emergency. 
  • Make sure you drop a pin/get a geo-tag for the location. Find a prominent landmark that can help people reach the area. 

Step 4: Methods of delivering relief  

  • For government distribution: 

Once you have collected the data, please get in touch with the assistant engineer and the joint commissioner for the area. They will put you in touch with the concerned ward Officer or revenue inspector. You might have to accompany a government officer for another survey, as part of their verification process. 

  • For private relief and distribution: 
    • One way is to directly transfer funds to the grocer. The minimum requirement is 1-1.5 kg rice and 100 g dal per person per day.
    • People prefer dry rations of their choice to cooked food. Cooked food is centralised, transport-intensive and has no local control. It might get stale. Workers feel the wait is frustrating. Grains at home makes one feel safe, and the workers can cook according to their taste and preference. 
    • Before distribution, contact the workers. Let them know you are coming. It is best to go door-to-door and distribute ration, to avoid overcrowding. If that is not possible, ensure one representative from each family is present to collect the ration. For a larger number of people, distribute tokens. These are just  slips of paper with a local grocer’s rubber stamp and a volunteer’s signature. This prevents chaos/crowding . You can distribute one token per family after your survey. About 5 kg rice and 1 kg dal may be enough for five days for one person. Negotiate with the shop owner to supply without profit.
    • Of course, the quantity we are talking about is minimal. Many a time, saathis/volunteers provide more comprehensive relief – vegetables, oil, sugar, culture-specific grains. This could cost Rs 600-1600 per family, for rations lasting 5-10 days. Hopefully government supplies will provide permanent relief. Long-term solution is still a question for most of us.

Essentials distributed by volunteers to migrant workers. Pic credit: Senthil S and Maraa.

    • NGOs might have their own distribution mechanisms. You might have to figure out transport if the NGO/individual is not able to arrange it themselves. 

Step 5:  Estimate cost 

Figure out the cost of providing relief. For example, for a community of 100 members: 

Item Requirement per person per day (kg) Cost per kg (Rs) Total cost per person per day (Rs) Total cost per person for five days (Rs) Total number of people Total cost for five days (Rs
Rice 1.5 40 60 300 100 30,000
Dal 0.1 108 10.8 54 100 5400
Total cost 354 35,400
Note: You could prioritise the families that are most in need, say 10, and transfer to them Rs 354-550 per head.

Here’s the example of a documentation sheet.

Step 9 :  Provide immediate relief

People are working with you in the hope there can be some relief from their hunger.  Plan for some form of immediate relief. We need to be time-bound and accountable to the people on this. 

Step 10 :  Plan for chaos, manage it

In situations of deprivation and hunger, partial supply of food to only one section causes conflict, and at times physical fights. This can be language-based differences (usually that’s how it shows up), a claim that X already took relief, or  inter-community squabbles. Moderate the same, and issue tokens well in advance.

Do not go and stand beside a truck, without tokens. Take support of local distribution mechanisms. Taking local volunteer support is key. 

Do not get discouraged by chaos. Expect a few problematic elements in rare cases. In case you need help, connect with local activists who have experience.

Reassure those left out that you will come back with more relief, and honour the commitment.

Step 11: Prepare a report

Come back and type up a detailed report. Also capture the data in a spreadsheet.

Step 12: Get an official survey done

Reach out to the joint commissioner of the respective municipal zone. Share details of what you have done; communicate that you have a report and would like the ward engineer to do a survey. The joint commissioner should give you a contact for the ward engineer in charge, and instruct the ward engineer to conduct a survey.

Go with the ward engineer during the survey, ensure it is done properly and he/she collects all required details.

Ward engineers may actually call up construction employers/contractors and deal with them very roughly if they have not paid wages. They could be frustrated with all the responsibility thrust on them. You need to be sensitive to the dilemma faced by workers whose employment is dependent on officials and contractors. You  may need to mediate with employers on this.

Step 13: Follow up with the community

Follow up for dry ration relief. Be physically present with the community when relief is supplied, check quantity and quality.

Step 14: Escalate if required

If no action is taken, escalate matters to activist groups like ‘We the people’ or PUCL for discussions with the BBMP Commissioner and other government officials.

[This guide is based on the work of the collective Maraa in Chinnappa layout, Mahadevapura and Doddagubbi.]

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