India has been under a nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus since March 24. The lockdown was followed by crises with the worst-hit are the poor and marginalised communities. With no means of work or money, lakhs of people across the country are scrambling for their daily meal.
In these trying times, Khaana Chahiye, a citizens' initiative, is relentlessly working every day to get meals to the migrant workers, the homeless and underprivileged residents of slums in Mumbai.
Khaana Chahiye was founded by Pathik Muni, Ruben Mascarenhas and Neeti Goel on March 29. What started with the distribution of 1,200 meals daily on the Western Express Highway of Mumbai, is today, distributing over 70,000 meals in a day. Till date, the initiative has served around 33 lakh meals across the city.
"When the lockdown started, we looked at the city, and the way the lockdown was implemented was such that the administration wouldn't allow you to reach the main arterial roads. The idea was to disconnect people travelling from one location to another. While the local areas were not strictly enforced, the arterial roads were strictly enforced, so nobody could get on to these roads. We noticed that there were many homeless people on these roads, whose livelihood was dependent on the movement of the citizens. Suddenly, they were out of jobs and had no business or money coming in. We noticed their problem and we started addressing the homeless problem first. That's how it started," Pathik Muni, 39, the co-founder of Khaana Chahiye, tells The Logical Indian.
"Soon we realised that it was not only the problem of the homeless but also of migrants and the slum dwellers. So, we started catering to the homeless, migrant workers, and the slum dwellers," adds Muni, a Cyberspace professional in the city.
The initiative is currently serving 15,000-16,000 meals daily on all the five arterial roads in the city - Linking Road, Western Express Highway, SV Road, Eastern Express Highway, and the LBS Marg.
"We also service the train stations. A lot of trains are moving from Mumbai to various parts of UP, Bihar, Himachal, etc. We have adopted three out of four stations of Mumbai - CSMT (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus), LTT (Lokmanya Tilak Terminus), and the Bandra terminal. We are catering to every train that leaves Mumbai by serving around 1,800 meals per train, on an average doing around 25-28 trains a day," says Muni.
They have also set up their booths at the entry-exit points of the city to serve meals to the migrant workers going to their home towns by walking or through the government buses. "We have a drive we have started with Radio Mirchi, where we are servicing around 70 buses on a daily basis, where we are providing food on those buses," says Muni.
In addition to this, they are also servicing around 9 orphanages in the city by providing them with ration and fruits as a wholesome diet for the kids. They also serve 1,200 meals daily for the firefighters in the city, in addition to some meals to hospitals and police stations.
"We also take care of almost 25% of Mumbai's ration along with the administration. We take care of five wards out of the 26 municipal wards in the city. The administration gives us a list of people that they have identified who don't have ration and we provide them with ration," adds Muni.
They have also adopted 11 Adivasi villages in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. They work closely with the forest department to provide ration to all the 11 villages.
As restaurants are not operational right now, the team tied up with some restaurants across Mumbai and use their kitchen capacity to prepare the food. They are also partnered with various NGOs in the city.
"We have a huge team whom we call the food ninjas and based on the area from the demand is coming in, we send it to the relevant food ninja. The food ninja goes there, identifies and validates the demand. Then we try and map the restaurant kitchen which is closest to the particular demand. The transportation is mainly taken care through local tempos. For the last few days, we have also got the support from the administration, where we are using the city transport buses to transport the food packets to various locations," explains Muni.
In addition to food distribution, the initiative is also helping migrant workers to reach their home towns.
"We possibly are the only people in Mumbai who have started the Ghar Bhejo campaign, where we sent migrant labourers back home. We started the campaign even before the administrations started the trains. We booked private buses and would transport the migrant workers to their home state. We would get their medicals done and take permission from the host state - Maharashtra - and the home state, so that they don't have a problem reaching the home state," explains Muni.
Amid the pandemic, Khaana Chahiye also takes the various safety precautions very seriously. All the food ninjas wear head caps, glares so that their eyes are protected, masks, face shields, aprons, and gloves. They also have a panel of three doctors, with whom they arrange periodic calls for their volunteers, where they can ask any questions. They also get all their food ninjas and people on ground tested for COVID-19 in a private lab, and bear all the expenses.