“Has Sheila Dikshit come here?” a man asked his wife, prompted by a blaring loudspeaker, as the couple crossed the busy ITO junction on the afternoon of September 17. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had, in fact, come to the gathering outside the Police Headquarters but not in flesh and blood. Her face was plastered across posters and placards that were criticising the State Government’s recently launched food security scheme.
It was the first day of the three-day hunger strike organised a few kilometres from the Delhi Secretariat by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). They called for scrutiny of the Food Security Act and ending corruption in making ration cards. The voice booming from the speakers belonged to politburo member “Comrade” Brinda Karat.
On August 20, Delhi became the first State to roll out this national programme. As much as 44 per cent of the city’s population will be covered under the food security scheme and it will bring 32 lakh people from the most vulnerable households under its purview. A total of 73.5 lakh people, out of the city population of 1.68 crore, will benefit from the scheme. In the first phase, all Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, Above Poverty Line (APL) card holders, Jhuggi Ration Card (JRC) holders and beneficiaries under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) will be included.
“Sheila Dikshit said Delhi will be ‘hunger free’. But before the scheme was launched, BPL members used to get 35 kg of grain every month. Now, each member of a family is entitled to only five kg of food grains,” said Ms. Karat. “A family of three, which used to get 35 kg of grain, will now receive only 15 kg each month. This is a reduction of 20 kg!”
Her audience comprising men and women from different parts of the Capital, including Sonia Vihar, Kabir Nagar and Bawana nodded in agreement. “This is the Congress, and this is the BJP who together implemented this law,” Ms. Karat continued.
A day before the hunger strike, Delhi Food and Civil Supplies Minister Haroon Yusuf said that people had responded “enthusiastically” towards the scheme launched in the beginning of September. “People are coming forward in large numbers to get enrolled for new cards to avail the benefit of the scheme,” he said. According to government records, more than five lakh households covering 25 lakh people have applied so far, on average 60,000 forms are received every day and elaborate arrangements have been made to make forms available in 250 places across Delhi. The government, to ease the process, has even decided to accept photocopies of the application forms.
Despite Mr. Yusuf’s reassuring words — asking people not to be impatient as the last date for submitting forms has not been fixed — the mood on the ground reflected not impatience as much as an unnecessary hassle that could have been avoided. Several beneficiaries The Hindu spoke to, especially those from the BPL category preferred the previous ration system that guaranteed 35 kg of grain each month. As one woman put it, “Earlier we were paying more for more grain. Now, we pay less for less grain. That’s the only difference.”
Local committee member of CPI (M) East Delhi Maimoona Mollah was among those who demonstrated outside the office of the FSO in Sonia Vihar on September 13. The demonstration was to demand reinstatement of the provision for 35 kg of food grains for BPL families and to control mismanagement in the process of new ration cards. “We oppose the per person cap,” said Ms. Mollah, referring to the five-kg cap per family member. “Add to this, many fair price shop owners have imposed a cap on their own. In one of the ration shops in Sonia Vihar, the shopkeeper has interpreted the guideline (which says 25 kg should be given to a family of five members) to mean 25 kg is the cap on a family of five members or above,” she added.
Further, Ms. Mollah pointed to inconvenience caused to beneficiaries at the time of filling forms. This is despite the city government promising a “simple and hassle-free” process of filling forms linked to Aadhaar cards. “I have heard of instances where women have gone to submit their forms only to be told that their Aadhaar cards appear fake or simple faults are found with the way forms are filled up to delay the process further,” she added.
The scheme has also led to the rise of touts making a quick buck from both selling forms (average Rs. 50) and offering to fill forms (between Rs. 100 and Rs. 150) for beneficiaries, Ms. Mollah pointed out.
However, the city government has responded by claiming to have taken strict action against those who are misguiding people and has even lodged two FIRs so far against people indulging in such malpractices.