Pune: The several loopholes in the efficacy of the Public Distribution System (PDS) are keeping a large section of the marginalised community from getting grains for free or at subsidised rates. Activists and experts, therefore, are bolstering their demand for a universal PDS.
The Central government on March 26 had announced that the government will give 5 kg wheat or rice and 1 kg of preferred pulses free of cost to 80 crore people under National Food Security Act (NFSA). Besides, the beneficiaries will get their additional 2 kg of grains for the next three months at subsidised rates so that the people do not suffer during the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19. But, the picture is different on the ground.
Kusum Pawar, a 50-year-old Katkari tribal, has received 35 kg via PDS at their Margasani village in Velha taluka of Pune district. Kusum, her husband Bapu, their three sons, and their wives are landless agricultural labourers and belong to the Scheduled Tribe of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG).
Kusum Pawar who doesnot have chappal to wear hope lockdown to end and she can restart labour work to earn money
Bapu says, “My family has four couples and four children but I receive ration meant for one family of five people. Thirty-five kilos is not enough for us. Also, we do not know how we can get spices, pulses, sugar and other ingredients required to cook food.”
Residents of this area are not able to work at farms and employ labourers as, they say, petrol and diesel are not available to run the water pumps.
Bapu says, “We have very little savings from the labour work we could do until March 15-16, and with that, we will not be able to buy rice at Rs 20-30 per kg or wheat at Rs 30 per kg.” All 10 families consisting of over 60 people at this hamlet in Margasani are facing this issue.
“This is a pan-India problem. The beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act implemented in 2013 are based on the Census of 2011. Population has increased in the last 10 years. And the number of eligible people under NFSA has increased. Many have applied for the subsidised grains, but their applications have not been approved yet,” said Siraj Dutta of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha.
Jitendra Singh, a migrant labourer from Bihar, works at the Timber Market in Pune and stays at a rented room in Keshavnagar. He is struggling to feed his daughter and wife amid the lockdown. Jitendra’s ration card is valid back in his village and he cannot use it here. He says, “I tried to get it registered in Pune. But I could not travel back to Patna to get the documents; I could not leave my work. And so far, I didn't really need the ration card as much.”
Singh, who pays Rs 2,000 as rent, Rs 500-800 for electricity bill and Rs 300 for water, earned Rs 500-1,000 per day and would end up earning Rs 15,000-18,000 per month. He said, “Initially, I had money to buy groceries. Later, I got 5 kg of ration because of an activist. But for how long can I manage like this? If I can get food at a PDS shop, that would solve my problem.”
As per the Economic Survey of India 2017, India has 139 million interstate or intrastate migrant workers working in unorganised sectors--in construction, textile, hotel and agriculture industries. Though no exact figures of how many labourers could return to their villages are available, the central government on April 3 told the Supreme Court that the number is close to six lakh.
Chandan Kumar, an activist who works for the Hamal Panchayat in Pune, said that the migrant workers in Maharashtra have ration cards connected with their addresses back in their villages. “They cannot buy ration from PDS shops here. Most of them have not received salaries for March as well. Social organisations can reach some people, but that cannot solve the problem.”
He added, “It was told that people would get ration for two months. But they are getting one month’s ration. A few PDS shops are yet to get their stock from the government for April. The measures announced by the government are not being implemented properly for various reasons.”
One of the officials from Pimpri Chinchwad said on the condition of anonymity that the hub of small and medium-scale industries has over 30,000 migrant labourers, but he does not have sufficient allocation of grains for them.
Sarvahara Jan Andolan, Angmehanati Kasthakari Sangharsha Samitee and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao--organisations working for migrant labourers and the unorganised sector--have filed a petition in Bombay High Court in this regard. Ulka Mahajan, one of the petitioners, questioned, “Do community kitchens for migrant workers provide food to all labourers? Do Shiv Bhojan Kendras provide food to all? How many times labourers are given food in a day?”
Sanjay Khandare, secretary, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Department, did not respond to the several calls made by this reporter.
Another official, on the condition of anonymity, said that all the people who have ration cards are given ration. “Sending food to villages requires time. The government has also started community kitchens with the help of NGOs. People should contact their respective Tehsildars and collector offices in case of a difficulty.”
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