Officials from Kathmandu Metropolitan City had announced on November 4 that volunteers, who had been providing free meals to the needy at Khula Manch since March, won’t be allowed to continue doing so.
Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya in his recent press briefing accused the volunteers of distributing unhygienic food and painting a negative picture of the city in the international arena by feeding the poor in the open.
After widespread criticism on social media, and a public outrage, city officials were forced to backtrack on their decision and announce that a party palace would replace Khula Manch as the venue for the distribution of free meals from Bhai Tika.
A day after Bahi Tika, city police personnel forced people waiting in line for free meals at Khula Manch into a van and took them to Thapathali, where they were given food.
“It was a blatant misuse of force by city police against hungry people waiting for free food as the same way they had been doing for the past eight months,” said Pukar Bam, national coordinator at Hamro Sano Prayas Nepal, a relief rescue mission initiated by independent citizens against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Volunteers who used to serve free meals at Khula Manch are now doing so at Thapathali, but the number of people who come for free meals has declined drastically. “At Khula Manch, we used to feed up to 700 people in a day, but at Thapathali, less than 150 people come to get free meals because this place is not convenient for them,” said Bam.
It’s the porters and daily wage workers who work in Ason, Indrachowk, New Road and Ratna Park who come for free meals at Khula Manch, volunteers say. But once the city forced them to go to Thapathali, many disabled informal sector workers in the inner part of Kathmandu can’t walk up to Thapathali.
“The city should have found an alternative venue near Khula Manch, but it didn’t,” said
Bablu Gupta, another volunteer who created a Facebook group (“100 group”) with other like-minded people and volunteer organisations to provide free meals to the needy. He said the city only showed its willingness to coordinate with volunteers after widespread criticism from the public and the media.
Although the new venue for free meals is a much quieter place compared to Kula Manch, the city is still letting poor people eat sitting on a dusty floor, where the air stinks of the Bagmati.
When the Post contacted city officials over the issue, they weren’t much concerned about it. Earlier this week, the city planned to provide job opportunities to the unemployed.But, the city neither has data on jobless people nor those faced with hunger.
Ishwor Man Dangol, spokesperson for the city, said the city was unable to take those living on the streets to the city-run Manav Sewa Ashram due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are coordinating with the different volunteer groups to feed the poor,” said Dangol. However, volunteer groups say the city has not shown any interest in looking for a party palace to host the free meals programme as it doesn’t want to spend on rent.
Meanwhile, none of the 32 wards in the city have launched programmes to feed the needy.
“It’s the local authorities who need to look after their citizens. But unfortunately, our city is not concerned about hungry people,” said Bam.
Published on: 20 November 2020 | The Kathmandu Post