Scores of people living in slums at Mohakhali and Mirpur in Dhaka returned empty handed after hours of wait as the government began selling specially subsidised rice on an experimental basis on Sunday.
Dozens of people holding national identification cards turned up at the two places designated for selling 6 tonnes of rice at a subsidised price of Tk 10 per kg long before the sale started at 10:00am.
They waited in the scorching sun, some accom panied by minor children, as it was the first chance for most of them to buy rice after a countrywide shutdown began 11 days ago.
‘I survived on help the past week,’ said Rozina, who borrowed Tk 100 from her employer for buying rice at Sattala Basti in Mohakhali.
Rozina had waited nearly five hours before she had the chance to buy rice around noon.
An NID card holder can buy maximum 5 kg rice a week and the government has plans to increase the number of selling points to 24 in the capital by the end of the week.
The selling points would cover 43,200 people, merely a fourth of what government recently estimated to be the number of slum dwellers in 73 slums in Dhaka metropolitan area.
The government estimate is far less than the unofficial estimates of about 40 lakh people living in slums or slum like conditions in two Dhaka city corporations.
‘We don’t have any plans of increasing the sale as many private companies are distributing relief,’ said food secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum.
The truck-mounted open market sale shop near Shiyalbari Jhilpar Basti at Rupnagar of Mirpur ran out of its daily supply of 3 tonnes of rice in just three hours of opening the shop at 10:00am, said Taufiq-e-Elahi, area rationing officer.
‘The sale could easily have been doubled,’ said Taufiq.
About 200 people were still on the queue when the shop closed with the government officers pleading the people to come back on Tuesday, one of the three days the government selected for selling OMS rice in a week.
Nazrul Islam, secretary of Ward 7 of Dhaka North City Corporation, said that minimum 5,000 voters live in a number of slums scattered in Shiyalbari Jhilpar area, all in need of emergency food supply.
Several hundred slum dwellers returned empty handed at the other OMS shop near Sattala Basti where the shop was closed at 4:00pm.
‘This is a huge slum and 10 tonnes of rice will not meet the demand,’ said Shamim Ahmed, area rationing officer.
Shah Alam, secretary of Ward 20 of DNCC, said that there were 16,000 families living in the Sattala Basti.
But others from nearby slums also joined the Sattala Basti residents in the queue in front of the OMS shop that zigzagged nearly a half kilometre around noon.
Elderly people and the sick were seen leaving their sandals or sacks in the white circles painted on the streets to ensure physical distancing in the queue as they were unable to keep standing long hours.
‘I became a widow when my only son was 2,’ said Saleha, 45, a former garment factory worker unable to stand long since suffering a workplace accident several years ago.
Her tailor son struggled to lend a helping hand to her after keeping his own family even in normal times.
‘I will die if I don’t get free food,’ said Saleha, who borrowed Tk 50 from a neighbour to buy rice on Sunday.
The nationwide shutdown has already been extended to April 14 to contain spread of coronavirus.
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