JENE, FESTIVAL: Imtiyaz Bhat distributes food kits at Dal Lake during Ramadan. Photo by Abid Bhat

On March 18, a woman who returned from Saudi Arabia and hospitalized in Srinagar tested positive for COVID-19, the first such patient in Kashmir. The Srinagar District Administration responded to the news with a strict lockdown. Confined to their homes, sections of the city’s 1.2 million residents struggled with a shortage of food and basic necessities. A hotline set up by the administration to respond to grievances has been inundated with complaints about the depletion of rations, especially basic rice.

Just over a month into the 30-day period of Ramadan, Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Shahid Choudhary tasked his team with preparing 50,000 food kits to distribute to the needy in Srinagar. Each kit contains 5 kilos of rice and 2 kilos of flour, as well as tea, mustard oil, spices and salt. The goal is to ensure that every family has adequate food during the holy month. Distribution was scheduled to begin on April 25, the first day of Ramadan, but the challenges of successfully mounting an operation of this scale soon became evident.

The logistics were entrusted to Imtiyaz Ahmad Bhat, junior assistant in the office of the development commissioner. The 53-year-old man from Srinagar’s Batamaloo neighborhood had only five days to organize the labor needed to prepare the kits. But Bhat was ready for it. “Like the previous cases of crisis in the valley, I did not want to lose this opportunity to serve the population as well,” he says. “But it was difficult to get all the goods, numbering in the hundreds of quintals, from Srinagar alone. We had to arrange for tea and other items from the Anantnag and Budgam districts. This was made possible in the middle of the lockdown, as the DC arranged for transport. “

As of April 20, five vehicles left each morning for parts of Srinagar to bring 56 workers hired for work at the Government College for Women on Maulana Azad Road. The college was chosen for its central location and spacious rooms, where men could work while maintaining social distancing. “The workers received protective equipment. On those days, I only slept a few hours. My goal was to have the food kits ready by April 25, ”Bhat explains.

For the distribution of the packages, Srinagar district has been divided into 25 zones. Each had an official responsible for home delivery. The kits were distributed on the basis of distress calls and beneficiary lists sent by the mohalla welfare committees to the tehsildars. But exceptions have also been made. As in the case of a businessman from Srinagar who had had a bad day. “When we got home, the delivery guy called us to reconfirm. But this businessman had suffered big losses and was looking to sell his house and his SUV after the lockdown, ”said an official.

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