In a joint protest organised by the Right to Food campaign and the Right to Information campaign, multiple activists, students and citizens congregated in Delhi to shed light on the crisis of deaths because of starvation gripping India. Calling the crisis a ‘silent emergency’, the campaign released data which has highlighted that 45 hunger related deaths have been reported in the past one year from different states.
These deaths are a reflection of the grim status of hunger and distress in many parts of the country.
While the reasons for this situation of hunger are deep and systemic, the protest today in the heart of Delhi was aimed at asserting that there has been a failure of all the protective measures that are in place. Most of the persons who died of starvation were denied their legal entitlement to subsidised food grains from the Public Distribution System (PDS). Some of the victims’ households were not issued ration cards, despite repeated applications. Some ration cards were cancelled as they were not linked with Aadhaar. Many were unable to access their PDS rations due to Aadhaar-based biometric authentication failures.
Also Read: In the Absence of Aadhaar, Starvation Deaths Continue in Jharkhand
One person was denied ration even after successful Aadhaar-based biometric authentication. The mandatory integration of PDS with Aadhaar has caused disruption on the ground, eroding the progress made through other PDS reforms over the past few years. A large proportion of ration cardholders are denied their legal entitlement to subsidised food or face inconveniences due to this integration.
There are many other concerns with the implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA). There are no systematic procedures for updating ration card lists and adding new names to ration cards. The population figures of 2011 are being used to determine quotas, although it has been seven years since and there is an increase in population. There is a drastic reduction in the number of Antyodaya (AAY) ration cards across the country. Although the NFSA includes millets, these are absent from the PDS baskets of most states. There is very poor enforcement of the transparency, accountability and grievance redress provisions of the Act.
Speaking to Newsclick, Amrita Johri of the Delhi Rozi Roti Andolan, said, “Given the number of starvation deaths, the protest today was one of its kind, jointly organised by the Right to Food campaign and the Right to information campaign, this is because, the issues of food, health and pensions are intrinsically linked, to shed light on these issues we have been requesting to meet the ministers for over a year now, the issue has been sidelined both at the policy level as well as in public debate.
Also Read: 12 Die Of Hunger In 10 Months, Jharkhand Government In Denial: Right To Food Campaign
With respect to finding its place in the realm of policy, the issue of hunger, has been as one which gets subsumed under the ambit of economic development, leading to the expectation that wealth will percolate to solve the problem of hunger. This formulation makes a number of incorrect assumptions about the relationship between hunger and other social structures. Despite the fact that the rate of global food production has been consistently higher than the rate of population growth, there is a persistent and pervasive crisis when it comes to food security.
Amidst this, a memorandum with the list of demands was sent to Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. The demands put forth by the campaign are--
- Time in Parliament for a discussion on the situation of hunger
- The central government should immediately issue strict notifications clarifying that no person shall be denied any welfare services for the lack or failure of Aadhaar or biometric identification.
- Criminal proceedings against all persons responsible for starvation deaths.
- The central government should review the status of distribution of AAY cards and ensure that all states have fulfilled their allocated number of AAY cards.
- Inclusion of subsidised pulses and edible oil in the Public Distribution System.
- Universalization of the Public Distribution System and social security pensions.
- Strict implementation of all social and economic legislations and Supreme Court orders.
- Activating the grievance redress system provisions of the National Food Security Act. Appointment of State Food Commissions, District Grievance Redressal Officers and Vigilance Committees in all states, districts, blocks and fair-price shops.
- Antyodaya ration card for all single women and Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups.
- Reject any proposals for replacing the food and nutrition supplementation through schemes such as PDS, ICDS and school mid-day meals with cash transfers.
- Demand that the maternity entitlements given under the Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana are fully in sync with the spirit of the NFSA – the amount must be at least Rs. 6000 and there should not be any conditionalities imposed for getting benefit.
- State level social audits must be conducted regularly