The Right to Food Campaign (RTFC) has written to Piyush Goyal, the Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, on Monday demanding extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) and universalisation of the public distribution system (PDS). The letter pointed out that free ration distribution across the country was applicable only until November 2021 and has not been extended further.
Under this scheme in 2021, all persons with a 'priority' or Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) ration card under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA) received an additional 5 kg foodgrain per person. "This is a much-needed measure to support 80 crore Indians listed under the NFSA, in coping with the economic distress caused due to the pandemic," the letter said.
The Campaign highlighted that the pandemic still exists, and the uncertainty over livelihoods remains with unemployment at record levels. "At a time like this," the letter said, "When foodgrain stocks are at a record high, and people are facing the real possibility of hunger and starvation, the government should universalise the public distribution system (PDS) to ensure that anyone in need of ration would be supported irrespective of whether they possess a ration card." It added that the state governments must also be provided with additional food grain at subsidised prices to expand benefits.
The Campaign said that the pandemic also exposed the fragility of our social security system and the lack of resilience among the working class to cope with such economic shocks. According to RTFC, nearly 42% of India's population do not possess NFSA ration cards, including many vulnerable communities who are therefore unable to benefit from the PMGKAY scheme. "To ensure that nobody is excluded, it is essential to universalise the PDS and allow everyone who needs rations to access them." The Campaign demanded that immediate arrangements be made to universalise the PDS and to include pulses and edible oils as part of the monthly entitlements.
The letter mentioned that the Supreme Court, in its judgment on June 29, 2021, in the suo motu case regarding the problems and miseries being faced by migrant workers [Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil ) No. 6 of 2020] had directed the Union government and state governments to provide foodgrains to migrant workers, including those without ration cards, till such time that the pandemic continues. Similarly, on September 29, 2020, the Supreme Court (IA80140/ 2020, in Criminal Appeal No(S).135/ 2010) also ordered that all states should provide dry rations to all female and transgender sex workers identified by NACO and district authorities, without insisting on any identity proof or ration cards.
"In such a scenario, rather than stopping the additional food grains under PMGKAY, the government must enhance the allocation and in addition, provide foodgrains to all economically vulnerable groups, including migrant workers, sex workers, homeless, transgender persons and unorganised sector workers," the letter said.
The Right to Food Campaign made three demands to the Union Minister — 1) the extension of the PMGKAY for at least six months till May 2022, with the provision of edible oil and pulses to each household; 2) universalisation of the PDS to support all persons, except income taxpayers, to especially help migrants workers, homeless, sex workers, trans people and all vulnerable communities without ration cards; 3) expansion of the PDS to provide millets and other nutritious commodities such as pulses and oil.
The letter said, "It is unacceptable if even a single person dies of starvation in our country at a time when godowns are overflowing. With nearly 100 million tonnes of foodgrains in FCI godowns in August 2021 and 90 million tonnes in September 2021, estimates of available FCI stocks indicate that it is feasible to both universalise the PDS and simultaneously extend the PMGKAY for at least another six months. Instead, an estimated 600 million Indians without NFSA rations cards have not received any support from the central government, despite the pandemic."