Maharashtra’s Poor Struggle as Government Cuts Quota of Subsidised Grain for Small Families

The state government believes that families with one or two members are unlikely to use 35 kg grain per month and will sell the extra in the black market.

Currently, Maharashtra has 25 lakh families registered under the AAY, including tribals and landless labourers. Credit: PTI

Pune: Sadhana Jogat, a 37-year-old woman from Masale Choudhari village in the Solapur district of Maharashtra, is struggling to put food on her plate. Sadhana, who earns around Rs 2,000 a month from her small ironing shop, used to receive 35 kg grain under the public distribution system (PDS). But now her name has been transferred from the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) to the Priority House Holds (PHH) list, which means she is entitled to only five kg foodgrain at subsidised prices.

Over six lakh families that were earlier receiving 35 kg grain at subsidised rates are now only entitled to five kg grain per head. For these families, surviving on five kg grain is proving to be difficult. However, the government of Maharashtra thinks otherwise. It believes that most of the time, beneficiaries of the PDS sell the food allotted to them in the black market.

Last month, the state government decided to do something about this ‘wastage’ and asked district officials to shift families with one or two members from the AAY list to the PHH list.

According to the government, over 3.5 lakh families out of the total 25 lakh under the AAY scheme in the state have one or two members. It believes that they are unlikely to use 35 kg grain per month and the extra grains will be sold in the black market.

“Currently, Maharashtra has 25 lakh families registered under the AAY, including tribals and landless labourers. With the new rule, six lakh families will be shifted from the AAY to the PPH list. Three lakh families having one member and three more lakh families with two members will be shifted to the PHH list. The food thus saved will be given to the needy,” said Mahesh Pathak, principal secretary of the food civil supplies and consumer protection department of the state.

“We have taken this decision to curb the practice of black marketing. A person does not require more than 5 kg of foodgrains in a month. Families with one or two members don’t require 35 kg grain,” he added.

When asked how the department came to this conclusion, Pathak said, “It is simple logic that one person or two persons cannot consume 35 kg in a month. If you visit their houses, you will not be able to find any trace of the spare grains. Where does it go? Shopkeepers have informed us that the grains are being sold in the black market. Agents across villages are involved in selling the grains at subsidised rates.”

Kiran Moghe of the Akhil Bhartiya Janwadi Aghadi, Pune, said, “AAY families are the poorest among the poor, their earning capacity is very low. Has the government done any survey that shows an increase in the income of these families? On what basis has the government claimed that the additional grain is sold in the black market? If this is actually happening, then even the PDS shop owners and government officials might be involved. This shows that government does not care about the poor.”

Sadhna Jogat, whose quota for grain under the Food Security Act has been reduced by the Maharashtra government from 35 kg to 5 kg. The same has happened to thousands of families. Credit” Varsha Torgalkar

Kishor Tiwari, a farmers’ rights activist in the Vidarbha region, said, “The right to food is necessary to uphold Article 21 of the constitution of India, which guarantees the fundamental right to life with human dignity. It is also a provision in the National food Security Act, 2013. The Maharashtra government has decided to cut down subsidised food to families without any order from the Centre. This is against the law.”

“But the new circular by the food and civil supplies department has excluded families of tribals, widows, single women, people with disability, old, pregnant and milking women and people with mental issues from the subsidised foodgrains list. Families in drought-affected areas where no jobs are available even under the National Employment Guarantee Act depend on the subsidised foodgrains,” he added.

Tiwari went on to say, “Five kg grain is not sufficient for a person for a month. The problem of malnutrition is grave in tribal and drought-affected areas across the state. This new rule will lead these people to death. We want the government to take back its decision or shift these families to the Annapurna scheme under which 20 kg of food is given at subsidised rates per month”.

“AAY families are identified based on the criteria laid down by the law. They cannot be reassigned to any other scheme on the basis of the number of members in the family,” said Ulka Mahajan, a social activist in the Konkan region.

Meanwhile, the state is deciding whether to put a stop to a scheme started by it in 2015 that provides 35 kg foodgrain to the families of the farmers who committed suicide in the Vidarbha and the Marathwada region.

Varsha Torgalkar is an independent journalist based in Pune.