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Relief distribution programme in Birgunj fails to cover vulnerable families

On Thursday, many residents of Ranighat in Birgunj Metropolis reached the District Police Office in Parsa to receive relief after hearing about the police office’s distribution programme through a local FM station. Among them was 50-year-old Nagma Khatun, who had been visiting the office for the past two days in hopes of receiving relief.

“We came to the police office after hearing that they were distributing relief,” said Khatun. “We were here on Wednesday too but our turn never came. They asked us to come back on Thursday but after waiting all day long, they turned us away empty-handed.”

More than 150 women from Sheerpur, Murli and Chhapaiya in Birgunj queued up outside the police office for two days to receive relief. However, most of them had to return empty-handed after security personnel from the police office asked them to leave.

“They told us that it was the metropolis who was supposed to distribute relief,” said Khatun. “But the metropolis is currently not distributing relief so we came here.”

The nationwide lockdown that was put in place back in March followed by the protracted prohibitory order imposed by the metropolis for over a month now have left many daily-wage earners and those from the lower-income bracket without a source of income. These families are solely dependent on relief provided by the government to see them through these tough times.

Girija Devi, who is in her early 40’s, has a family of four to feed. A resident of Ranighat in Birgunj Metropolis-11, Devi says her family has been robbed of the opportunity to work since the prohibitory order was imposed in the metropolis on July 25 to control the spread of Covid-19.

“We are daily wage workers. We cannot work when there are lockdown and prohibitory orders in place,” she said. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to survive.”

According to the District Police Office, the relief distribution programme was meant for those in extremely vulnerable situations. The office had collected data of the needy families in the metropolis but on Thursday those whose names were not listed had also reached the police office.

“The District Police Office had decided to distribute leftover foodstuff from an earlier distribution drive to around 60 people. The local unit was to provide relief to another 80,” said Superintendent of Police Ganga Panta. “But on Thursday, a large crowd gathered outside the office so we had to send them away.”

The women who had reached the police office on Thursday claimed that security personnel resorted to baton charge to disperse the crowd.

“They called us to the office but chased us away by using force. This is adding insult to our injury,” said Tetar Devi Paswan of Chhapkaiya, who had also reached the police office on Thursday. The police, however, deny allegations of using force on the crowd.

Meanwhile, in Ward No.19 of the metropolis, food grains meant for 200 impoverished families have been stuck in the storeroom of Bindabasini temple for the last two months. The Province 2 government had sent the relief packages for needy families back in June. Each package comprises 25 kg rice, two kg lentil, one litre cooking oil and one packet salt.

The locals blame Santosh Tiwari, the ward chairman who is also the spokesperson at the metropolis, for depriving them of relief materials sent by the provincial government.

“We had repeatedly requested the ward chairman to distribute the relief but he ignored us,” said Naresh Prasad Gupta, a local.

Tiwari, however, claimed that the relief distribution was delayed, as the available relief materials were not enough for every needy family in the ward.

“The amount we have with us right now is not sufficient for all needy families. We will bring more stuff and distribute it among the locals in the next few days,” said Tiwari.

Hundreds of impoverished families in Birgunj have been left high and dry for almost six months now since the nationwide lockdown was imposed following the coronavirus pandemic.

Nasima Khatun of Shreepur used to work as a house help but she hasn’t been able to work amid the pandemic. Her husband, a teacher, has also not received his monthly salary for the past four months.

“This pandemic has rendered us both jobless. We have used up most of our savings and if the government does not provide us with food, we will die of hunger soon,” she said.

Khatun had also reached the police office on Thursday to receive relief but was sent away since her name was not on the list of needy people prepared by the police office.

“I came to the police office hoping to get relief but they chased me away. They said they were giving relief only to those whose names were on the list and that we should go to the metropolis’ office. But the metropolis is not distributing any relief,” she said.

Meanwhile, Chief District Officer of Parsa Asman Tamang said the district administration had started distributing reliefs to impoverished families through the District Police Office and Birgunj Metropolis since the past few days.

“We heard that the relief materials in the police office weren’t enough to cover all needy families. Those who had to leave empty-handed on Thursday will receive relief packages soon,” he said.

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