New Delhi: In the month of April Pankaj Prasad, a vegetable vendor in Hapur district, Uttar Pradesh, was under a lot of distress as his regular income stopped due to the coronavirus lockdown. Further, his two brothers, who were among the thousands of migrant workers displaced by the lockdown, returned from Delhi during the month of April also joined Pankaj’s family of seven members, with two children and five adults. With no job and more mouths to feed, access to food to ward off hunger was the main concern of the family.
In a televised address on June 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) by five months till November end, initially the scheme was meant to be for three months- April, May and June. Under the scheme announced on March 26 precisely to help families like Pankaj’s, over 80 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), are provided an additional ration of 5 kg of wheat or rice per person and one kg of pulses per household every month for free of cost. This is over and above their regular entitlement under the Public Distribution System (PDS) which includes 35 kg of foodgrains per month to households eligible under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month to Priority Households (PHH) beneficiaries at a subsidised cost of Rs. 2 per kg of wheat and Rs. 3 per kg of rice. During the last three months, several states provided the entire quota of ration for free of cost to the NFSA beneficiaries along with the additional free ration under PMGKAY.
NDTV reached out to fair price shop (FSP) owners and beneficiaries in the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal (WB), Rajasthan, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu to learn about the on-ground execution of this scheme. Majority of the respondents belong to rural areas and depend on agriculture and allied sectors for their livelihood. It was found that while beneficiaries under NFSA welcome the extension of PMGKAY, the scheme is facing a few glitches on the ground.
Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) Helpful For People In the Rural Areas Who Are Ration Cardholders
PMGKAY has been able to offer help to the poor especially those who lost livelihood during the lockdown. It has also provided relief to those families in rural areas that have one or more migrant returnees as Pankaj says,
It is definitely helping. We have been receiving foodgrains every month. I take 3.5 kgs of wheat and 1.5 kgs of rice twice in a month. We have been able to manage without much trouble even though we have more family members in the house as my brothers who worked as masons in Delhi have also joined us temporarily.
Pankaj says that there are currently seven members in his family of which the names of six are included in ration card and so his family is eligible for 30 kgs of extra ration which is sufficient for them for one month. Because of some issues in the Aadhaar Card of one his brothers, his name has not been included in the family ration card yet.
Anurag Ramasamy, a 35-year-old migrant worker who returned from Mumbai to his native village, Keelakondur in Tirukkoyilur Block of Viluppuram district in Tamil Nadu has also availed free ration under PMGKAY. Anurag who used to work in a restaurant in Mumbai returned home in ‘Shramik Special train’ that was operated by the railways to transport stranded migrant workers to their home states. He said,
I have two children, a wife in my family and my parents also live with us. My family and my parents have separate ration cards. I have always tried to keep myself aware of government schemes and even help others in accessing these schemes. Initially we faced delays in receiving the extra quota of free ration but in the month of June we faced no problem. We receive about 20 kgs of ration from the state government and about 30 kgs from the central government under the PMGKAY.
Radha Ben, mother of two children in a village in Devgadh Baria block Dahod district, Gujarat, has received a relief package of 5 kg foodgrain per head in the family and one kg pulses for free, besides her regular quota of ration of 25 kg ration. She said,
I was delighted to know that the scheme has been extended because my husband who worked in a roadside Dhaba lost his job because of COVID-19. Receiving monthly entitlement of foodgrain has provided us with some relief.
Rewati Meena, a marginal farmer in Block Bhim of Rajasamand District of Rajasthan said that she has been receiving the ration under PMGKAY on time every month and has also received Rs. 1,000 one-time ex gatria under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana that was deposited in her Jan Dhan bank account. Rewati who is a beneficiary under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) has also received one free gas cylinder after the lockdown was imposed. While announcing the COVID-19 relief package March 26, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharmanan said that BPL (Below Poverty Line) families will get free cylinders for three months under the Ujjawala scheme.
Lack Of Access To Food To Non-Beneficiaries Under NFSA
Renti Ben, a 63-year-old widow from a tribal community lives in Kansatiya village, Devgadh Baria block of Dahod district in Gujarat. Her husband died last year and her daughter and son-in-law died two years ago. Now she and her 5-year-old grandson are alone and are struggling to survive. Renti Ben has been trying to get herself registered under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) which is part of NFSA that aims to reduce hunger among the poorest families by providing 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month. However, because of some issues in her Aadhaar card, she is unable to get AAY ration card and thus she has no access to food security. She is currently living on the generosity of her neighbours and the ration shop dealer who sometimes provides her with some ration free-of-cost. Her grandson who is enrolled with an Anganwadi centre gets a supplementary nutrition item called ‘Sukhadi’ twice a week which is provided by Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) department, Government of Gujarat. Apart from some help from neighbours and supplementary nutrition from Anganwadi centre for the child, there is no food security for Renti and her grandson who are facing extreme distress during the lockdown as she does not have a ration card.
According to Dinesh Saddullanager, a PDS shop owner in Tisotra village of Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, since the lockdown started and many people lost their livelihood, the applications for ration cards have increased. He said that a lot of people are still waiting to either get a ration card or get their names to appear in the ration card of their household. He said,
It is not easy to say ‘no’ to people who come to the shop asking for ration. Not many migrants have returned in my villages and some of those who came have already gone back. I knew that we were supposed to give ration to only those who have ration cards but it is really difficult to say ‘no’ to somebody you know is in need. So I have given ration to some people without ration card also.
Delay in the seeding of Aadhar Cards into ration cards is one of the reasons for many deserving people to not get the free ration under PMGKAY. Ramesh, 28-year-old man from a village in Khatva Block of Satara district of Maharashtra belongs to a nomadic tribe. Most of the people from his community go to cities to earn money by taking up petty jobs and even begging. Only the elderly members stay back in the village. The community members come back for 5-6 months around the onset of Monsoon. While sharing the difficulties in becoming a beneficiary under NFSA, Ramesh said,
My name should have been in the ration card along with my family but my Aadhaar Card could not be linked with it. I was trying to get it linked since early February but every time I was asked to come back later. This continued till March and then lockdown happened and the e-Mitras were also shut. Now, they are working but my Aadhaar linking has still not happened. There is now much more crowd on these shops than before because many people want to get the ration card.
Bholu Pal and Anil Vinod, farmers from Budgari village, Bijnor, UP also said that while they are getting ration on time, some people in the village who do not have a ration card or have not been able to get their Aadhaar Cards linked to the ration card are unable to access ration. Vinod says,
People in the village generally take care of each other because of which till now, there has been no starvation deaths and no COVID-19 cases but in the past three months, there have been instances where people have fought with ration shopkeeper because their name was not appearing on the ration card.
Mujahid Khan, a 26-year-old migrant worker who has returned from Mumbai to his home in Siwan, Bihar said that while his family is not a beneficiary under NFSA, they have been able to survive till now because of the savings and the little farm they have. However, he said that savings are soon drying up and they will have to look for livelihood but there are no options in the village. He said,
How are we going to survive in the coming months? If I cannot get ration, at least give me a job. At least some work under NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) should be started. It will help a lot of people. The state government should worry about our livelihoods also.
Problems Faced By Ration Shop Dealers While Distributing Free Ration
Highlighting the problems faced during the distribution of free ration, Jayant Bhai, FSP dealer at Kansatiya village, Devgadh Baria block, Dahod district, Gujarat said,
For the distribution of ration, when I get the grains from the civil supplies department, I ask the panchayat to get it announced so that people can come and take their share of ration. But since the free ration scheme has been announced, people, who were supposed to come to the shop according to their card numbers, try to take the ration as soon as they can. This causes a lot of chaos in the shop which gives rise to disputes and fights. But I have ensured that all the NFSA cardholders get their entitlements.
He further added that according to the government rule, only a certain amount of ration can be given in one day and to a set number of ration cards and he is required to generate bills and update the portal every day with information on the ration distributed and beneficiaries. However, because of the lockdown, people are facing a lack of food and it is hard to say no to those who come to collect the ration, he said. This has led to extra book-keeping work for Jayanti Bhai.
Maintaining social distancing and hygiene at the ration shop is another challenge that ration shop dealers are facing currently, Dinesh Saddullanager, a PDS shop owner in Tisotra village of Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh said,
In order to take ration, people are required to provide their thumbs impressions to the machine. I try to maintain hygiene by cleaning the machine after each thumb impression. But it is difficult for me to maintain hygiene because mostly I run the shop alone and there are always many people waiting for their turn. Also, buying sanitizers puts extra financial burden. I have marked circles outside my shop for people to physically stand apart from each other, but implementing social distancing is difficult in rural set-up because people are less aware and do not listen.
Cost Of Grinding Wheat Mars The Purpose Of Free Distribution Of Grain In Wheat Consuming States
Beneficiaries in the wheat consuming states Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan said that the distribution of free wheat grain in place of flour is causing a problem for many. Instead of free wheat, they prefer flour because even if the grain is free, people are expected to bear the cost of grinding it in order to consume it. Dinesh Chowdhry, a 53-year-old farmer in Tisotra village, Bijnor, UP said,
For a long time flour mills in my village were shut due to lockdown and because of this, we faced a lot of problems. Even now, while the mills are operating, there is always a fear of coronavirus contamination since many people go the same mill for getting their wheat grinded. I think the wheat should be converted into flour at the state level only in bulk using bigger machines. There will be less chances of contamination and also theN people will not be required to Rs. 7-8 per 5 kgs of wheat to the mills.
West Bengal is one such state where the state government is converting wheat grains into flour. Even though West Bengal is primarily a rice consuming stats, people have appreciated receiving flour instead of wheat.
Inadequate Quantity And Sub-Standard Quality Of Foodgrains At Some Places
According to a ration shop dealer at a village in Khatva Block of Satara district of Maharashtra, who requested to remain anonymous, the amount of ration required for the shopkeepers for delivering the extra stock of foodgrain is not adequate. He said he is unable to distribute ration to all cardholders at his shop and also highlighted that quality of rain is not good. He said,
Dal is good but the grains that we are receiving from the civil supplies department are of poor quality. On top of that the quantity is less. It becomes very difficult for us to handle the situation at the shop because people start fighting with us if we tell them that the ration stock is over. There is a lot politics and corruption at the panchayat level when it comes to PDS. The influential people try to dictate the list of beneficiaries, made by the gram panchayat, because of which many deserving people are out of the whole ration distribution system. Every time somebody tries to raise a voice against this, they are met with threats from these influential people. There is no transparency and accountability in PDS here.
Shaila Yadav, a 25-year-old woman who is also a resident of the same village in Khatva Block said that a lot of people in her village have not received ration for the month of June yet. She further added that in April and May also, there was a delay in the distribution of ration.
Jyotsna Bhakat, a 30-year-old woman from Savar tribal community, who has a family of seven to feed, lives in the remotest part of South 24 Parganas in the deltas of Sundarbans. Her village has been completely destroyed by the cyclone Amphan. While she has received rice under PDS, she has not received any pulses in the past three months. She said,
You cannot even imagine what has happened here because of Amphan. The roof of our house, made of asbestos has been destroyed. The government is making a list of people who need help in rebuilding their home, we are waiting for the aid. We are getting rice from the government. There is no dal at the ration shop, only rice.
Another woman from Jyotsna’s village highlighted the problem of malnutrition among children due to lack of availability of nutritious food, high prevalence of worms in children and lack of medical services in the area.
The data provided by the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies show that West Bengal has not distributed pulses to anybody in the months of May and June. In April it distributed about 87 per cent of pulses allocated to the state. The data also shows that the state has failed in distributing foodgrains also as in the last three months, it has distributed only 59 per cent of the 9.02 lakh Metric Tonnes (MT) of grains allocated. On gaps in timely disbursement of ration in the Sundarban area, Dr. P Ulaganathan, District Magistrate of South 24 Parganas said,
The government is providing ration to them. But I would like to mention that tribals are a difficult lot to reach out to, considering the remoteness of their villages in the delta region and the aloofness that they are used to. So sometimes delay happen but all the beneficiaries under NFSA are being given the ration. We are currently working on providing support to those whose houses have been destroyed due to the cyclone.
While responding on the gaps and delays in distribution or ration and pulses in West Bengal, a senior official from the Food and Supplies Department, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that while the state has ensured that rice and wheat flour is distributed among people without any gaps, there has been a about a month delay at the state level in procuring the pulses. He said that the stock of pulses for the month of May was received on May 30 and thus distributed in the month of June and the stock of pulses for the month of June was received on June 30 which is being distributed now. He said,
The whole country is facing the problem of coronavirus but West Bengal has an additional crisis to face that was caused because of the cyclone Amphan. On the top of that the state had influx of lakhs of migrant workers. The period of last three months has definitely been challenging. However, we have ensured that people continue getting the ration. One Public Distribution officer has been deployed in each district by the Food and Supplies Department to oversee the distribution of ration. We have almost 9.96 crore people covered under PDS in the state. All these people are being given ration free of cost since last three months. Because of the sudden crisis, in the first two months, we saw people going to the ration shops in large numbers which was defying the purpose of imposing the lockdown because maintain social distancing was becoming hard. To counter this, we came up with a system where we have divided the distribution of ration in two fortnights. This has reduced the footfall of people into ration shops. People have understood the system and started getting used to it. We have not received any complaints about non-distribution of ration till now.
Similarly in the state of Maharashtra, the government has distributed only 87 per cent of the 10.5 lakh MT of foodgrain that the state had received for distribution under PMGKAY. The data provided by the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies in PIB (Press Information Bureau) release also shows that the state has distributed 82.4 per cent in April, 74 per cent in May and only 40 per cent in June of the total pulses in allocated for distribution under the scheme for the respective months.
In view of the gaps in the execution of the PMGKAY on the ground, via a virtual media briefing on July 1, Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution urged the state governments to be more sensitive towards the poor and speed up the distribution of the free food grains and pulses to help the poor get the benefits in time. Experts and activists working towards food security in the country advocate for universalisation of the public distribution system and say that having an open food distribution system will provide a basic right to food to each citizen. Dipa Sinha, Assistant Professor at Ambedkar University, New Delhi and a Convener of Right To Food Campaign said that there is an immediate need to increase the current coverage under NFSA. She says that with the current coverage of slightly above 80 crore people, almost 10 crore people are excluded from the system. This is because NFSA mandates a coverage of 67 per cent of the total population and when the Act was implemented it took population as per the Census 2011 which is 121 crore as the basis. Over the past nine years, while the population continued to grow, the coverage under NFSA remained 80 crore while 67 per cent of the present population- 135 crore is 90.4 crore, she said adding that at least these 10 crore excluded people must be added into PDS system at the earliest.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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