Even during the best of times, the State's public distribution system (PDS) through fair price shops plays an important role in keeping hunger at bay for the country's poor.
But, at a time when the prices of all essential commodities are shooting through the roof, the role of the PDS in shielding the poor against the forces of the open market becomes critical.
Ration shops, however, appear to have done very little to cushion the effects of price rise for the below the poverty line (BPL) households, even as they prove to be ineffective for their target audience, there are calls to widen the scope of the PDS.
Seema Bhagwati (45), a BPL cardholder from the Mulihitlu area of the city, complains that the supplies she is eligible for at the ration shop are just not enough to sustain her three teenage children, husband and mother-in-law.
Every month, her family is eligible for 20 kg of rice at Rs. 3 each, five litres of kerosene at Rs. 9 a litre, 1 kg sugar at Rs. 13 a kg and 1 litre of palm oil at around Rs. 42 a litre. This meets less than a third of the family's requirement, leaving Ms. Bhagwati, a beedi worker married to a construction labourer, with no option but to negotiate the prohibitively expensive open markets. In the open markets, an average grade rice costs between Rs. 15 and Rs. 20 a kg, blue kerosene costs Rs. 41 a litre, and sugar between Rs. 32 and 40 a kg. These prices tend to fluctuate wildly.
“If I had only two persons in my family, I would have been eligible only for 8 kg of rice at the rate of 4 kg a person. By that logic, I should get 24 kg of rice for my family of six. But, that is not the case,” she says.
Bharathi Bolar (40), an activist, says, “The supply of sugar, kerosene, and palm oil is very erratic. Some months we get it, some others we don't.”
Muneer Katipalla, president of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), claimed that his organisation had exposed several cases where sub-standard items were being supplied. “Poor people are left with no option but to buy these items because they cannot afford the items in the open market,” he said.
Karnataka Pranta Raitha Sangha leader Yadav Shetty says, “Those who own two-bedroom houses and cars have got BPL cards, whereas construction labourers have got above the poverty line (APL) cards.”
Rukma Poojarthi (58), married to an electrician and a home-maker living in Attavara, says that her family might not be desperately poor but still suffers because of price rise. “In the old days, everybody who had a ration card was getting groceries from the ration shop. Those days, we were buying only select items such as palm oil and sugar,” she said.
Claiming that there are several flaws in the methodology of calculating the poverty line, Opposition parties have been raising the pitch in favour of universal PDS. Chamra Uram (25), a migrant labourer from Jharkhand, says that Mangalore is one of the most expensive cities in the State. “Every item is costlier by at least Rs. 10,” he says. He feels that the Government should allow migrant labourers to use their ration cards anywhere in the country.