The incident took place due to misinterpretation of information, says the DC
When Farid Ahmed Sheikh dialled 333 on May 18 in the hope of getting some food aid, he did not expect that it would lead to a humiliating punishment.
Two days later, Narayanganj Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Arifa Zahura directed him to provide food aid to 100 people as a penalty for seeking aid despite supposedly being the owner of a four-storey building and financially prosperous.
However, it came to light on Saturday that the 65-year-old only owned two tin-shed rooms on the roof of the building and was not solvent, prompting the district administration to form a committee on Sunday to investigate the matter.
“I never thought I would live to see this day. After suffering two strokes, I started experiencing problems in my eyes and head. I am on the verge of losing my eyesight for not being able to take the necessary medicine. I have a low paying job, but I cannot work properly due to my deteriorating eyesight,” he said.
“I have to set aside Tk8,000 every month just for my physically challenged son... My daughter was forced to discontinue her studies due to insolvency,” Farid said on Sunday while talking to this correspondent from his home in the Nagbari area of Deobhog.
Also Read - Lockdown: Govt clears 121C for poor people
The sexagenarian said that he had called 333 as he could not think of a way out, but he was penalized and humiliated instead.
“The authorities have said that the amount would be reimbursed. But can they give me back my lost dignity?”
Farid Ahmed said that he could not keep his clothing business afloat which he had started 16-17 years ago following his return from Saudi Arabia.
He currently works as a tailor at a hosiery shop for a monthly salary of Tk15,000.
Farid said that he had been struggling hard to provide for his family with that salary after paying for his son’s medical expenses and his problems got worse since the pandemic started last year.
‘What else could I do?’
Following the misunderstanding regarding his financial situation, he was ordered to provide food aid to 100 people without being allowed to clear up the confusion.
“I attempted suicide twice... What else could I do? How can I manage food for so many people when I cannot even feed my family?”
Hiran Begum, Farid’s wife, said they had to mortgage her one bhori (11.66 grams) of gold ornaments to pay the penalty.
“How could some educated people like them make such a mistake? Even if we are not affluent, we have our dignity. How can we go outside now?” she lamented.
As part of the government plan to help the poor, needy and people who became unemployed due to the restrictions, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief disbursed Tk121 crore to district administrations and upazila administration offices for distribution.
The government has plans to distribute a total of Tk930 crore for 3.5 million poor families and 100,000 disaster-affected farmers.
Probe committee formed; reimbursement ordered
After the UNO’s blunder was reported in the media, a three-member committee, headed by Additional Deputy Commissioner Shamim Bepari, was formed, Deputy Commissioner Mostain Billah told Dhaka Tribune.
UNO Arifa Zahura has been instructed to reimburse Farid Ahmed. “The incident took place due to misinterpretation of information,” the DC said.
Stating that such occurrences were undesirable, he said: “Even so, we continue our activities. The 333 hotline is still operational.”
Dhaka Tribune could not reach the UNO for her comments on the issue.
The UNO earlier claimed that after inspection, she had discovered Farid Ahmed as the owner of the four-storey building and that the person had admitted it too.
“As a punishment, he was ordered to distribute food to 100 poor people so that no one else dares to do this [dial hotline for help despite being well off],” she told the media.