Two Years after the Food Security Act, the Poor Remain Starved of their Due

New Delhi: Addressing the issue of the faulty implementation of the National Food Security Act, the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan held a public hearing here last week. The NFSA provides for priority ration cards for 42% of Delhi’s population. Households with priority ration cards are eligible to receive 5 kgs of foodgrains per person per month at subsidised prices. Despite Delhi being one of the first states to start implementation of the NFSA, there are still plenty of poor residents struggling to get their ration cards. More than 200 people, mostly women, from all parts of Delhi came to the hearing to share their grievances.

Chief among the issues raised, was that of people getting ration cards with partial details. In a number of cases, the names of children were left out of the card due to the absence of an UID number. Despite repeated Supreme Court orders stating that having a UID number cannot be mandatory to receive any government benefits, the Delhi government continues to insist on Aadhaar for each member of the household. One of the government officials present stated that children of 3 months or older can be enrolled under the UID. 

Saira, a resident of Sunlight Colony said that there are nine members in her family but only four names have been included in the ration card, because the others don’t have UID numbers. They receive only 20 kgs in place of the 45kgs they are entitled to. Seema, who has four children said that her ration card has the names of only her husband, herself and her eldest son while three children have been left out for the same reason. Due to some of the criteria in the guidelines of the Delhi government, households which are poor and used to get rations earlier as they had BPL cards are now being left out. In particular, those living in category E colonies stated that because of the blanket criteria excluding all households in A to E colonies, they are being denied subsidised rations. “We have been here for 40 years and now we are being left out. We have been placed in category E on the basis of the average income tax paid by residents of the area, but that doesn’t mean that all members pay high income tax. We have a BPL certificate, but we are still being left out”; said Chandravati from Savitri Nagar.

Ration shops were a part of the discussion as well with many stating that their ration shops have been shifted far away and they are spending about Rs 100-150 on each trip now.

Vimla, a widow from Jagdamba Camp Basti is the head of her household and has to look after a family of four. Before the NFSA, she had a BPL card but it got cancelled because she failed to get an Aadhar card despite having the prerequisite documents. .

Resham Devi made multiple trips to the ration shop to get her ration because the point-of-sale device was not working because of power cuts, which occur often in her area. People’s problems were further aggravated by the absence of a clearly defined grievance redress mechanism.

Experts and civil society representatives including Harsh Mander (Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court on Right to Food), Usha Ramanathan (human rights lawyer), Kavita Srivastava (convener of the National Right to Food Campaign), Biraj Patnaik (principal adviser to the commissioners to the Supreme Court) Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women and Anjali Bhardwaj (Right to Food activist), were present at the public hearing.

S.S. Ghonkrokta, Special Commissioner for Food and Consumer Affairs, Department of Delhi was also present along with a number of officials of the Food Department. He assured the people present that the department would look into the issues raised and try to resolve them along with the community. However, he urged those present to comply with the requirement for an Aadhaar card.