Weekend Rendezvous: After War On Criminals, Ex-Maharashtra Top Cop Wages One On Hunger
A decade after he hung up his boots, concluding a long and illustrious career in the Indian Police Service (IPS), ex-Maharashtra DGP, D Sivnandan, is on a dedicated mission -that of satiating hunger pangs of the needy and poor. Having set up Maharashtra’s first Roti Bank in 2018, this former cop has been working relentlessly ever since and is 24x 7 available for the needy. His Foundation serves eleven thousand hot meals daily in Mumbai.
This ‘food rescue' operation initially started off as a drive of collecting excess food from hotels, events, and housing societies. The food was lifted in special GPS fitted vans and was distributed among the hungry in different slum areas within 6o to 90 minutes after collection. But during the pandemic and lockdown, the organization revamped its strategy.
Sivnandan set up four kitchens in Mumbai where food was prepared fresh and then distributed. The pandemic instead of coming in way of his charitable initiative instead of deterring him or his team helped in upscaling this noble task. In fact, it helped the mission to actually reach its potential and purpose during the pandemic when everything was at a standstill
From a collector of excess food to opening his own kitchen and providing over 11000 free meals every day just in Mumbai is an interesting journey and one which must be told so that it is replicated by those in the social network. This cop is determined to bridge the gap between hunger and excess food and there is no stopping him. His zeal, passion, and concern for the poor and hungry are matchless. He ensures that he is available for any emergencies 24x 7.
What made you launch this initiative?
India presents mind-boggling hunger statistics. The country ranks 100th out of 119 countries on the global hunger scale. The paradox is that while 20 crore Indians, the majority from Mumbai, go to bed hungry daily. in the same country, nearly 1.8 lakh tonnes of food is wasted every day With a little effort I am confident this excess food can be tapped and rescued. Through Roti Banks we can reduce the percentage of hungry and helpless Indians.
My concern for the hungry stems from my profession. As a policeman, I have observed that petty crimes generally start due to an empty tummy. I decided while I was in service that after I hung up my boots, I will work on the initiative that strikes down hunger, In 2018 I took the plunge with just a couple of supporters.
In the beginning, we used to collect rotis, and add sabzi from our pocket. We also collected leftover, fresh food from different food centers, parties, events, weddings venues in our special vans had distributed. It is among the hungry in the slums, footpaths, shanties. This was my little initiative bridging the gap between hunger and excess food., As part of the initial initiative, two GPRS-equipped vans make rounds of streets near hospitals and slums to provide food to needy people.
How do you differentiate between the needy and those who are looking for a free meal?
We do not judge people or gauge their hunger before providing food. Anyone who comes for a meal gets it. It is for him to decide whether he should take it or not.
How did the pandemic affect your work?
The pandemic only added to my resolve to ensure that our food mission does not stop. I strongly felt that there can be no bigger and testing time for humans and that there would never be more need to feed the poor than during the lockdown.
While the number of mouths to feed increased the donors were missing as all eateries were shut down during the lockdown and societies were following COVID-19 protocols and discouraging interaction with outsiders.
The situation was bad and it was clear that if we were to continue we would have to alter our work mode. I redesigned my work. With the help of volunteers, we set up four temporary kitchens and started cooking our own food. Where there is a will there is always a way.
How did you manage to distribute this cooked food during lockdown?
My initial concern was the safety and health of my staff and volunteers. I first took care of this by asking them to follow all safety and hygiene rules. I also gave them safety gear and doubled the salaries of the paid staff. For distribution, I used my experience from my service days in the police.
I contacted the chowkis in charge and they agreed to help and ensure a human chain. Our vans dropped the food packets at the police stations. The rest was done by the men in khaki. Through a public address system, they ensured that communication was established and food was distributed in an organized and hygienic way.
Are these kitchens continuing now ?
Yes, we have retained one. Here we cook meals for eleven thousand thousand people. My kitchen is now equipped with the latest gadgets and the main machine is the roti making machine.
How do you mange funds?
Through my experience, I can say with confidence that money for a charitable purpose is never an issue in our country. People are very generous and always come forward to donate for a good cause. The only thing is that the credentials of the person collecting these funds must be established and one the donor can trust him completely.
With his hard-earned money. Fortunately, I have the reputation for being honest and from day one I have ensured transparency, and all donations are duly acknowledged and listed on our website. As the Foundation is registered the donors also get rebates in income tax. There is an open invitation to donors to check our work, food quality at any time.
Who has been Your biggest donor till date?
Sharukh Khan and Juhi Chawla's Mir Foundation. They donated Rs 60 lakhs during the pandemic.
What is your take on the expansion of these food banks?
While it is my dream that the city and country get flooded with Roti banks and that nobody in India goes to bed hungry I am a little skeptical about setting up banks by unknown people. Food handling requires the greatest of hygiene and care. Contamination can cause serious health complications which can lead to social and legal issues.
That is why I have gone very slowly on this and I like to first thoroughly check the credentials of the person who will be running the branch. I have fallen back on my old colleagues whom I know can handle a food bank. IN these three years we have opened branches in five states of India – Mira-Bhayandhar, Thane, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Nagpur.
(The writer is a senior journalist and steady contributor for many media outlets of the country. She is widely respected for her passion-driven reporting of social causes, news features, interviews and development journalism reportage)