Iftearul Islam, secretary at Ward 29 of Dhaka North City Corporation, was standing with a pale face on the premises of the Tejgaon Central Storage Depot. He looked very tired of waiting for a long time to take delivery of food relief on April 15 in the afternoon – 21 days after the lockdown had been enforced to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Although the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief began special allocation for the coronavirus crisis on March 24, Islam got his hands on the first distribution order on April 12 after a long bureaucratic tangle.
After receiving the order, he ran around for completing the process of taking delivery of the food relief.
"At first, we were told to take the delivery from Jurain's food office and so we submitted necessary papers there on April 12," said Islam.
"Next day, the food office gave a message asking us to collect the relief from the Tejgaon office on March 15," he said.
"We came to the Tejgaon food storage at 8:30 am following their instructions, but food officers came at 11 pm and we had to wait the entire day, to no avail," he added.
Not Islam alone, secretaries of 54 wards under Dhaka North City Corporation were waiting at the Tejgaon food storage with tired faces to take delivery of the food relief.
It will take one or two more days to distribute the relief among ultimate beneficiaries as food will have to be packed with the prime minister's photo inscribed on every packet as per the ministry's instruction, ward councillors told The Business Standard on the food storage premises.
This is how bureaucratic red tape has left many poor people on the brink of starvation since March 26 when the government locked down the city.
Because they were not getting government relief even in 22 days since the lockdown came into effect, many ultra-poor people were going out of home to beg food from households, ignoring the restrictions.
The same scene prevailed in Dhaka South City Corporation.
Although the first allocation was delivered 21 days into the lockdown, the amount of relief was very small. Every ward was allocated 1,851 kg of rice and Tk18,518 in cash.
Each ward has around 2 lakh residents and the commissioners' offices received a demand of relief for at least 50,000 people. But the government has been allocating relief only for 500 to 1,000 people, said ward secretary Iftearul Islam.
"Moreover, we were not given any money for transporting relief and its distribution," he said.
Dhaka North City Corporation reports no relief distribution till April 14
The Dhaka North City Corporation in its report said no relief was distributed by the government or the district administration till 14 April.
In an updated report on special relief in the coronavirus crisis, Dhaka North showed zero distribution of relief by the government or the district administration.
However, ward councillors distributed relief on their own.
How the process of releasing food relief takes 22 days
Between March 24 and April 14, the ministry allocated a total of 2,103 tonnes of rice and Tk1.25 crore in cash for Dhaka district, including the two city corporations.
According to the distribution channel, the Dhaka district commissioner received the allocation from the ministry and gave sub-allocation to the city corporations.
The district commissioner made the first allocation to the city corporations on April 7, 14 days after the ministry started to allocate the relief. The first allocation included 100 tonnes of rice and Tk10 lakh in cash for 54 wards under the Dhaka North City corporation.
The city corporation issued the distribution order to zonal offices on April 9.
The ward councillors received an allocation order on April 12 from the zonal offices.
On April 15, the food office released food aid to ward councillors for distribution.
Until April 16, the ward councillors could not distribute relief among the poor people.
Meanwhile, the district commissioner's office speeded up its relief allocation after April 9, and by this time it had made two more allocations.
The Business Standard took a slum located beside a rail line in Peyarabag area under Moghbazar as a case study to closely observe the relief distribution process.
A visit to the slum on March 16 revealed that ward councillors were still collecting names and that too of only voters.
Parul, 30, a slum resident, said she could not get her name enlisted for relief as she is not a voter.
Like Parul, as many as 16 families in the slum, consisting of 50 members, are non-voters.
When contacted, Muktar Sardar, ward councillor of Moghbazar area, said no decision has been taken about non-voters yet. Relief materials were received on April 15 but packaging of the items could not be completed till Thursday.
It will take one or two more days to start the distribution, he added.
A lack of cooperation
When asked about the delay in releasing relief, Md Akram Hossain, additional secretary (relief) in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said the authorities are releasing relief immediately after allocation.
He has no idea why relief has not reached the poor yet as the ministry does not get feedback about the distribution.
Dhaka district office:
The relief distribution from the district commissioner's office to the city corporations was delayed in the absence of a decision, said Md Shahiduzzaman, additional deputy commissioner.
When asked about a delay in the distribution, Tariq Bin Yousuf, chief urban planner of the north city corporation, said he has no answer for it. It is not under his jurisdiction to inquire why the allocation was not given to city corporations before April 7. His duty was only to transfer the allocation order to zonal offices soon after receiving it from the relief ministry.
Sharing his own experience regarding a delay in the process, Mir Nahid Ahsan, zonal executive officer of zone-3 of the north city corporation, said he received a distribution letter from the city corporation on April 9.
In the letter, it was mentioned that the relief would be released from the Tejgaon food storage, so he sent the letter to ward councillors' offices asking them to collect relief from the Tejgaon food office.
Later, he was informed that the Jurain food office was assigned for distribution. As a result, he had to correct the letter for the Jurain food office.
As it is difficult for the ward councillors of the north city corporation to collect relief from Jurain, they requested the Jurain office to open a distribution cell in Tejgaon.
Finally, on April 15, the Jurain food office opened a distribution cell in Tejgaon and released relief, he added.
When contacted, Saied Hossain, food officer at the Jurain food office, said the office received a distribution order from the zonal offices of the city corporation on April 14. As it was difficult to collect relief from the Jurain office for the ward councillors of the north city corporation, a distribution channel was opened at the Tejgaon food storage, he added.
He said relief distribution to deal with the coronavirus crisis began on April 15.