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Free Rations Must be Extended Beyond March to Prevent Largescale Hunger, says Right to Food Campaign

Ronak Chhabra |
People’s incomes and consumption levels are nowhere near pre-pandemic, even as lockdown-triggered restrictions have been lifted consequent to the waning of the latest COVID-19 wave, Right to Food Campaign said in a letter to PM Modi on Wednesday.
free ration

New Delhi: The hunger crisis in the country is “likely to exacerbate” after the end of this month as distribution of additional free-of-cost foodgrains to ration cardholders is set to stop, an advocacy group has warned in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, citing results from its national survey that captured the situation of “severe” food insecurity among the marginalised sections.

People’s incomes and consumption levels are nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, even as lockdown-triggered restrictions have been lifted consequent to the waning of the latest COVID-19 wave, Right to Food Campaign said in a letter on Wednesday.

It added that their national survey, carried out in December 2021 and January this year, found that 80% of the responding households in 14 States were facing “some form of food insecurity.”

We, therefore, demand that the Government of India immediately take the following steps to ensuring universal access to food security during this time of unprecedented crisis,” the letter read. Among its demands is the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), which is set to end in March 2022.

As many as 41% of households reported that the nutritional quality of their diet had deteriorated compared to pre-pandemic levels, Hunger Watch Survey II, conducted by Right to Food Campaign, had found.

The hunger situation among vulnerable communities worsened due to dwindling income levels due to a decline in jobs after the nationwide lockdown in March 2020. The same was suggested in the aftermath of the COVID-19 second wave last year.

The survey-based report based on over 6,500 responses from across the country, released earlier last month, provided evidence to the claim that the marginalised sections continue to face food insecurity even during the recent months.

Around 66% of the respondents said that their income decreased compared to the pre-pandemic period. Among those who suffered a decline in their income, the survey found, close to 60% reported that their current income was less than half of what it had been before the pandemic.

Consequently, close to 45% of the households reported having “some outstanding debts.”

More worryingly, close to a third of the respondents reported that they or someone in their household had to skip a meal or sleep without eating in the month preceding the survey, according to the report.

It added that more than one-third of the respondents perceived that their food situation would remain the same or get worse in the next three months.

The survey found that the PDS (public distribution system) and the additional grains supplied under the PMGKAY became a lifeline and often the sole source of food during this period of crisis. However, the benefits were limited to those who possessed ration cards,” Right to Food Campaign said in their letter to PM Modi on Wednesday.

The PMGKAY began in April 2020 in the wake of a nationwide lockdown. Under it, all the beneficiaries covered by the National Food Security Act (NFSA) have been entitled to receive free-of-cost five kilograms of food grains – rice or wheat – per person per month.

After the completion of the Phase-I of the scheme in June that year, it was further extended till November 2020 as the economy was still reeling in the aftermath of lockdowns and several virus-related curbs then.

Eventually, the scheme was extended for the fifth time in November last year, entailing an estimated additional food subsidy of Rs 53,344.52 crore.

The Hunger Watch II Survey report found that not all the respondents had a ration card with time and were excluded from the food security net.

On Wednesday, the Right to Food Campaign also demanded the expansion of PDS towards universalisation. “The Government of India must immediately expand and revise the coverage of the Public Distribution System based on the population projections for 2022,” their letter to PM Modi read.

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