Helping hand: How NGOs are trying to ease the suffering caused by coronavirus lockdown

For years, the Indian government has hounded NGOs. Now, in this time of crisis, it’s reaching out to them for help.

ByNikita Bishnoi
Helping hand: How NGOs are trying to ease the suffering caused by coronavirus lockdown
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The Narendra Modi government has a reputation for going after non-governmental organisations it does not like. From cracking down on “subversive” NGOs to barring 14,500 NGOs from taking foreign funding, the BJP has followed in the footsteps of preceding governments, and gone a few steps beyond.

More recently, it was reported that the government had cancelled the licences of over 6,600 NGOs in the last three years for violating provisions of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010.

But the coronavirus pandemic has forced a change in the Modi government’s position on NGOs. Unprepared for the scale of the outbreak, the Centre recently asked NGOs to aid its efforts. In early April, Amitabh Kant, the chief executive officer of Niti Ayog, the government’s think tank, wrote to over 92,000 NGOs seeking help in identifying Covid-19 hotspots and distributing relief.

Kant asked NGOs to help spread awareness about the pandemic. He said they could set up community kitchens to provide food for migrant workers and the urban poor, and provide them with shelter.

Additionally, on April 7, the government directed all NGOs with FCRA licences to submit monthly reports on their coronavirus relief activities.

Across India, NGOs have stepped up to provide assistance to those who need it, such as migrant labourers, who are especially vulnerable, having been left without income by the lockdown. Absent any transport services, lakhs of migrant workers have been walking to their villages and towns, often hundreds of kilometres away.

In Bengali Colony in Gurugram’s Sector 49, for example, Kanan Jana was standing at a crossroads. It had been a month since the lockdown was rolled out, and Kanan, 50, had no work and little money left. He had two options: forgo a place to stay, or do without food.

Kanan is a migrant labourer, the head of a family of five that includes two children. The family has lived in Bengali Colony for the last nine years.

“I decided to keep the place to stay so we paid Rs 3,500 to continue renting our room for the month,” he said. “We may have empty bellies, but a room ensures the family’s safety.”

It’s a decision made by many families in the neighbourhood, who hoped to get food through their ration cards or as part of special measures taken by the government.

“There are families here who have migrated from other states,” said Deepak Kumar, 32, a resident. “Many of them do not have a ration card to get food. Luckily, we had one – or at least I thought so!”

Deepak went to the ration shop twice, standing in long queues. However, the shop ran out of rations before he could reach the counter. Kanan said the government provided rations once a week, but they were inadequate to feed his family for more than a few days.

Fortunately for Bengali Colony, Rasoi On Wheels came to the rescue. A mobile kitchen service based in Gurugram, its volunteers provide at least one meal for residents every day. According to Atul Kapur, the head of Rasoi on Wheels, it feeds 15,000 people a day in Gurugram and Delhi, providing them cooked food and dry rations.

Here’s a look at some of the other NGOs providing assistance to the poor during the lockdown.

You can support their work by contributing resources or time. You can also help those in need on your own. A good starting point is to try to ensure that no one in your neighbourhood goes hungry. In this time of crisis, it’s incumbent upon us as human beings to help each other however we can.

Uday Foundation

Uday Foundation has been distributing cooked food and dry rations to Delhi’s underprivileged communities since the lockdown began. Reena Sen, the director of the foundation, said cooked food and rations are distributed to 1,500 people every day.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties

In Jaipur, PUCL has collaborated with 11 other organisations to provide food to the poor and homeless.

“We established a war room for Covid-19 relief on March 21,” said Bhanwar Lal Kumawat, the Rajasthan official secretary of PUCL. “We started with providing cooked food to the people. Subsequently, we began providing dry rations like flour, rice, pulses, cooking oil, and soap. Until last week, we distributed 10,000 such kits.”

Special care is taken to ensure that no homeless person remains hungry, Bhanwar added.

Teach For India

Schools closed early with the Covid-19 outbreak, and children from under-resourced and marginalised communities are the most affected. Radhika Khurana, a programme manager with the NGO, said they are focussing on the survival of children along with helping them to keep pace with their learning.

“We are providing the families of the children with dry rations,” she explained. “However, we are also trying to find ways in which we can continue educating them.” As a result, Teach For India launched online classes for schoolchildren, attempting to reach out to an estimated 3,900 families in seven cities.

“Online classes are held and when children find it difficult to attend these due to connectivity issues, we record the lessons and send it to them, so they can hear it at their own ease,” Radhika said. “Teach For India fellows are carrying out different activities to keep the children’s spirits up during these tough times. The activities include poetry, dance competitions, virtual talent shows, maths puzzles, etc.”

Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch

A citizen platform, the Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch’s Covid-19 relief operations began on March 27. It aims to provide ration kits to Gurugram’s daily wagers and the unemployed. Each kit contains five kg of atta, five kg of rice, one litre of mustard oil, one kg of salt, one kg of dal, haldi, jeera, and four bars of soap.

Ek Pehal

Ek Pehal is an NGO based in Agra that works for women and child education and empowerment. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NGO has been distributing rations, medicines, masks and toiletries to the poor.

Rise Against Hunger

Based in Bengaluru, Rise Against Hunger aims to provide meals and essential support to daily wage workers, construction workers, contract labourers, street vendors, and other vulnerable groups. It claims to have served nearly two lakh meals to 22,500 people in the first five days of its Covid-19 relief work.

MCKS Food For The Hungry Foundation

MCKS Food For The Hungry Foundation, Delhi, has distributed over four lakh cooked meals during the coronavirus outbreak, after increasing the capacity of its kitchens twelve-fold. Working with government authorities and the police, the foundation has also distributed over three lakh kits of packaged fruit buns, bread, rusk and biscuits.

Akshaya Patra Foundation

Working with state governments and district administrations, the Akshaya Patra Foundation has distributed over 1.3 crore meals and over 4.5 lakh grocery kits as of April 30 across 16 states. According to the foundation, each cooked meal costs Rs 25. The grocery kits cost Rs 825 each, and contain rice, pulses, oil, spices and vegetables that can feed two people with two meals a day for 21 days.

Help Age India

Senior citizens are more vulnerable to Covid-19. Help Age India’s mobile healthcare units and teams have been reaching out to the elderly, the homeless, and daily wage labourers to spread awareness. It also intends to distribute family survival kits that contain basic rations, protective hygiene kits for the elderly, and free meals to the homeless.


Pratham Mumbai Education Initiative has launched a Mumbai Food Project to set up temporary food camps and distribution zones across Mumbai. The camps will offer ration kits and pre-packaged meals. The NGO has distributed over one million meals to workers in Mumbai since March 30.


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Also Read : Maharashtra’s Melghat is teeming with NGOs. Why are its Adivasi children still dying of malnutrition?
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