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HT Salutes: Visually impaired civic staffer builds volunteer network

The volunteers put together 301 kits, which comprised five kilo flour, five kilo rice, one litre oil, two kilo sugar, 250g tea powder, chili powder and 500g washing powder. Each kit would last a family of five for at least a month.

Updated: May 16, 2020 08:22 IST

By Badri Chatterjee, Hindustan Times Mumbai

Dilip Zanwar, a BMC official who is also visually-impaired, distributed ration to physically challenged people. (HT Photos)

When the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) asked its employees who are persons with disabilities (PWD) to avoid travelling to work during the lockdown, 40-year-old Dilip Zanwar, a BMC control room operator from G-North municipal ward (Dharavi, Dadar and Mahim), wondered how visually impaired people whose sources of income including playing music, singing or selling stationery in Mumbai’s suburban trains, would sustain themselves.

Zanwar, who is visually impaired too, took matters in his own hands. In the first week of the lockdown itself, he built a network of eight volunteers to create ration kits with essential items that could be distributed. Some helped collect funds and coordinate with grocers, others made a database of families in need and the number of kits they would require. Over five distribution drives in April, which Zanwar was also part of, the team managed to reach 272 families spread out over Vangani, 70 km from Mumbai — where he lives as a paying guest —as well as other towns like Shelu and Badlapur in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. At least 248 of them had visually impaired members.

The volunteers put together 301 kits, which comprised five kilo flour, five kilo rice, one litre oil, two kilo sugar, 250g tea powder, chili powder and 500g washing powder. Each kit would last a family of five for at least a month.

“Even in normal circumstances, physically challenged persons regularly face hunger as their income is not stable. This is just one of the various challenges they face while travelling on local trains. When the lockdown started, my first thought was how they will fend for themselves,” said Zanwar.



Seeing his efforts, others chipped in. A Kandivli-based businessman and a local insurance company began to offer funds and logistical help such as transporting the kits. Kshitij Hirlekar, a businessman, coordinated with local grocers in Mumbai to procure dry ration that went into these kits. “Zanwar has ensured not even a single person with disability in Vangani has suffered due to loss of livelihood in this difficult period. When I came to know about his plans, I had to put in everything to ensure his efforts were completed. Over the past week, we have managed to provide one litre of milk to the families with children as a part of the kit,” he said.

Mumbai-based New India Assurance Company, helped out with permissions for the movement of vehicles. “When we learnt from Zanwar about the families [in need of help], we realised that even if they wanted to ask someone for help, they could not step out. Almost 100 staff members and agents contributed from their salaries, and we collected Rs. 1.6 lakh. We used this money to buy ration kits and hired vehicles. We separately sought permissions from authorities for the movement of vehicles. On May 8, our office team carried out a distribution drive. We will see to it that these families do not face any problems and request others that need help to reach out to us,” said Rekha Punse, divisional manager of the insurance company.

Zanwar, whose family lives in Jalna district, coordinated the distribution of packets using his mobile phone. “An 18-year-old boy Rupesh at the house, where I stay as paying guest, has been helping me collate the entire list of those who received the ration, and ensure no body is left out,” said Zanwar. “Our attempt now is to make these families understand the importance of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, teach them how they can be made using cloth, and once the lockdown is removed, they can start selling these materials in trains again if railway authorities permit them.”

“Travelling has been difficult with the local police stopping us from time to time but after learning about what we were trying to do, they allowed us to go ahead. Thereafter, local leaders from each area who saw what we are doing have continued the supply of rations,” said Zanwar.

Senior BMC officials said they were aware about Zanwar’s efforts. “This pandemic has revealed the true intent of some who are willing to go to any lengths to ensure those that are suffering are protected. We need committed people like Zanwar in areas like Dharavi, which is currently facing a huge crisis. We are fortunate that we have such people working with us,” said Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner, G-North ward.

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