Ration Supply Still Eludes Most Poor in Delhi as They Battle COVID, Job Losses

Audit finds 40% ration shops closed during working hours, only 28% distributing full entitlement of rations.

New Delhi: For Phoolwati, a resident of Bawana JJ Colony in North West Delhi, a bigger concern these days than the uncertainty around her son’s job is the inability of the family to access their supply of foodgrains through the public distribution system. Her family received 26 kg of wheat and six kg of rice through the ration shop last month, but though three weeks have passed in May, she is yet to get this month’s supply.

Her son is the only member of the family of six who earns. He just regained his job as a private driver, after being out of work for a month and a half. Phoolwati wonders if he has the time to go to the ration shop to bring home the grains. “Bete ko hi time nikal kar jaana padega (My son will have to find time to go),” she said, wondering how he would manage both his job and the visit to the ration shop all at once.

But with diminishing savings and job losses, a large number of economically backward families in Delhi still bank on the supply of rations through the PDS to eke out a living.

40% ration shops found closed during working hours

While the Centre announced additional food grains in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, an audit undertaken by Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA) of 110 ration shops in Delhi to assess the status of foodgrain distribution under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) found that nearly 40% of the shops visited were closed during working hours.

Worse still, the audit revealed that in these times of extreme hardship for the poor, the full ration entitlement was being distributed in only 28% of the ration shops.

“This is extremely alarming as Delhi is in the fifth week of lockdown, which has resulted in extreme economic distress for the working poor who have lost their sources of livelihood. They are being forced to buy food grains in the open market,” lamented food rights campaigner Anjali Bharadwaj of DRRAA, while revealing the findings of the second audit conducted this month.

Only 37% covered by ration scheme

The report on the visits to the ration shops said right now, food grains are being provided only to people with valid ration cards under the PDS of the NFSA. It said around 72.7 lakh people, covering only 37% of the population of Delhi, have ration cards.

In view of the economic distress caused due to COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, the report said the Central government, under PMGKAY, enhanced ration entitlement for cardholders by announcing an extra 5 kg of food grain free of cost per person. Further, the Delhi government made the regular entitlement under NFSA free of cost.

However, the report revealed that the benefits of these announcements are yet to reach many of the targeted group.

The group said its volunteers visited over 100 ration shops between May 1 and 12 and found that ration was not being distributed anywhere, causing intense distress to the poor and marginalised.

But a visit to 110 of the 2,008 ration shops in the national capital between May 15 and 20 by the Abhiyan volunteers revealed that the plans had not been executed well even in these times of distress. The DRRAA said the nearly 40% of ration shops visited (43 out of 110) were found closed during working hours and only 44 shops (40% of total) were found to be distributing grains to ration cardholders. Aanother 23 ration shops told the abhiyan that they were awaiting the full stock of ration.

On May 14, the Delhi government issued orders stating that the distribution of ration entitlements under the NFSA will commence from the same day and the distribution of additional entitlements under the PMGKAY will start from May 17.

However, the Abhiyan said, only 28% of the ration shops visited between May 17 and 20 were found to be distributing the full entitlement of the NFSA and PMGKAY rations.

In 100 of the 110 shops visited (90%), it claimed that there was no attempt to even inform the people through a notice board or banner about the category-wise entitlement of rations. “This is despite the fact that the orders dated May 14 by the Delhi government stipulate that a board detailing total entitlement of beneficiaries under the NFSA and the additional enhancements is to be mandatorily displayed prominently at all ration shops,” the Abhiyan said.

‘Staggered distribution should have started with available rations’

The food rights campaigners, who also include among others Amrita Johri, Annie Raja and Dipa Sinha, point out in their report, “It is a matter of grave concern that despite entering the third week of May, ration distribution for the month has not started everywhere. This is alarming as Delhi is in the fifth week of lockdown. Those who have lost their livelihood are dependent on foodgrains provided under the PDS to feed themselves and their families.”

The group noted that “the delay in distribution of rations is resulting in people being forced to purchase food grains from the open market at non-subsidised prices.” This is adding to the financial burden on people who are already dealing with an unprecedented health crisis and job losses.

The food rights campaigners suggested that even if the full allocation of rations (including under PMGKAY) had not reached shops, distribution should have been started in a staggered manner while ensuring compliance with physical distancing norms and other COVID-19 protocols.