Lucknow: The scheme of free ration distribution is believed to have had a tremendous impact on the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) victory in the recently-concluded Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. Buoyed by its victory, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in the first decision on the second day of his second consecutive term, declared that his government would continue to give free ration to 1.5 crore eligible poor people across the state for the next three months till June 30.
However, the government issued an order in April asking the ineligible individuals to surrender their ration cards by May 20 or face disciplinary actions like lodging of FIRs against them.
The government order specified that residents are ineligible to hold a ration card if one of the members in their family pays income tax, more than one member holds an arms licence, or if a member has an annual income of more than Rs 3 lakh in urban areas and Rs 2 lakh in rural areas, or owns a house, flat or commercial space. Families who own a four-wheeler/tractor/harvester/an air-conditioner or generator set at home are considered ineligible to hold ration cards.
A senior official said the district administration would send recovery notices to those ineligible people who do not submit their ration cards by May 20 and may even lodge FIRs against them under the Code of Criminal Procedure. He said the recovery would be made as per the guidelines.
Individuals can surrender their ration cards at their block offices or the office of the district supply officer, the official said.
All district magistrates have issued orders accordingly. According to officials, the "recovery process" includes imposing penalties of Rs 24 for a kilogram of wheat and Rs 32 for a kilogram of rice from the time ineligible households started availing ration.
According to the officials, there are two types of ration cards — Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cards and Priority Household cards. Families with an annual income of less than Rs 3 lakh/annum in urban areas and those with a yearly income of less than Rs 2 lakh in rural areas are eligible for Priority Household cards. People who have no house, fixed income or working skills — essentially, the poorest strata of the society — are eligible for AAY cards.
Commenting on the order by the government, Brij Bihari, general secretary of Mazdoor Kisan Manch, Uttar Pradesh, who is actively involved with the Right to Food Campaign, said, "These orders come at a time when inflation is at its peak, and the poor people are struggling to manage even two square meals a day. Many have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Rather than giving them free ration and some cash till the economic situation gets back on track, the government is threatening them with this, which is very unfortunate."
Pointing out the flaws in the order, he further said, "The evaluation methodology of the process adopted by the government is not right because the poor and the lower-middle-class people will also be excluded from the benefits. Even MGNREGA workers are also coming into its grip. We have conducted a survey in different villages of the Awadh region. As per the earlier order, 89% of the total population used to have a ration card. After this recent order, only 30-35% of people in a village will get the ration card."
Another activist Ajay Rai based in the Sonbhadhra region termed the order "inhuman" and "taken in haste". He asked the government to reframe the order keeping the lower middle class in mind.
"As per the order, a person having a pucca house in 1000 square feet has to return the ration card to the administration and can not avail free ration. The government should be aware that maximum people of the dalit community or any other backward community get bikes in the dowry and have pucca houses received under PM Awas Yojana or Uttar Pradesh Mukhyamantri Awas Yojana. Still, they do not have a food source due to job loss. This is unfair, which the govt should rethink," Rai told NewsClick, adding that there is palpable anger in rural areas against the decision.
The activist said that the district supplies department would initiate recovery proceedings against the person if they were found ineligible for the free ration.
"People in rural areas are afraid that the administration will harass them in the name of ineligible ration card holders and awhile the free ration."