Food Rights Group Urges Grains for All Needy Under PDS for at Least Three Months

Activists, writing to the Delhi CM, have pointed out how rations are only reaching a fraction of the population, and have suggested the proper use of civil defence, the police and MLAs to curb malpractice.

New Delhi: With lakhs of residents in Delhi not getting the promised ration supply in the wake of the lockdown called to arrest the spread of COVID-19, a food rights group has urged Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to universalise the public distribution system in the Capital for a period of at least three months.

Free rations not reaching poor

In a letter, the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan has stated that while a week has passed since the lockdown in response to COVID-19 was initiated, many residents of Delhi are still struggling to meet their basic needs of food and shelter. It said the promised 7.5 kg per head ration for all Antyodaya and priority card holders has not reached lakhs of people due to exclusion errors and limited quotas.

The Abhiyan also pointed out that while the spirit behind the announcement to provide rations to even those poor who did not have ration cards was laudable, no modalities have been laid as yet on total coverage, eligibility criteria or application procedure for implementing this decision.

‘Difficult for poor to apply online for cards’

On Kejriwal’s subsequent clarification that all those seeking such free rations will have to apply online so that no one is able to cheat the system and procure more than their entitlement, the food rights group said, “In the current state of lockdown, it would be extremely difficult for the poor and vulnerable to make online applications.”

The group said giving rations to only 10 lakh additional people would also be “woefully inadequate” as out of the 1.9 crore people in Delhi, only 71.08 lakh were covered under the PDS. “The population in Delhi that depends on daily wage and casual employment is much larger, given that nearly 90% of the workforce in India is in the informal sector. These people, having lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown, are in dire need of rations to meet their basic food requirements,” it added.

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Therefore, the Abhiyan – represented by activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Dipa Sinha, Annie Raja and Amrita Johri among others – urged Kejriwal to make the PDS entitlements universal for April-June period so that no one approaching a ration shop for free grains was denied these for lack of a ration card. The group said such universal schemes have “lower leakages and minimal exclusions”.

The scheme, it said, has shown in Tamil Nadu how the rich self-select themselves out of the system due to the opportunity cost of standing in the line or the relatively inferior quality of grain. Also, if everyone has access to the free rations, the possibility of selling the same grain in black is also reduced, the group reasoned.

‘Ensure proper utilisation of grains’

With the help of police, civil defence volunteers and others, it said the functioning of ration shops can also be monitored and it can be ensured that there is proper utilisation of grains. “The Delhi government can also evolve a simple mechanism such as marking a designated nail with indelible ink (as in elections) to ensure that people do not misuse such a system to take double rations from different shops,” it suggested.

Earlier, the Abhiyan had also released a report on its monitoring of the functioning of ration shops during the lockdown period.

Both Delhi government, Centre had announced free ration in view of COVID-19

This report had stated that the Delhi government had announced 7.5 kg per person on priority ration cards while allowing 35 kg of foodgrain and one kg of sugar for up to four persons on an Antyodaya Anna Yojana card. For five persons the entitlement was 8kg per person and for more than that it was 7.5 kg per person. This ration was to be provided free of cost.

The Centre had on March 26 separately announced 5 kg food grain per person and 1 kg dal per family free of cost to all ration card holders. But the Abhiyan said this material was yet to reach the Delhi PDS shops.

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Some PDS shops closed, not dispensing right quantity

Further, on checking 37 shops in various parts of Delhi, it noted that 12 (32% of all shops) were found closed during working hours.

Of the remaining 25 shops, 23 were found to be distributing grains to ration cardholders. The remaining two shops stated that they had finished their stock.

Out of the 23 shops which were open, 21 were found to be distributing grains as per the enhanced entitlement of 7.5 kg per person on priority category ration cards. In one shop in Mayur Vihar, the shopkeeper had distributed four kg less on a ration card of six people.

The Abhiyan said while people should be properly informed through notice boards about their entitlement, they only found 12 of the 37 shops to be displaying such information. Also there was no civil defence volunteer, representative of the MLA or police personnel in 10 of the shops to ensure proper distribution of free rations.